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David Kidd (1926-1996) was a Kentucky-born American who happened to be residing in Beijing on the eve of the Communist Revolution in 1949. He left shortly afterward, and eventually penned a series of remembrances which were published in The New Yorker throughout the 1950s. They were collected in book form in 1988, and reprinted with a preface by John Lancaster in 2003. Here’s an excerpt, recalling a time when he lived in the expansive Yu family mansions in 1950:

Baldy was our house dog, who, as a result of old age, or possibly a disease, had lost much of his hair. Occasionally, I would hear him give a shaky bark or two in the middle of the night, but he slept most of the time. Still, Aunt Chin was convinced that Baldy was our greatest single protection against the Night People, and she may have been right, because it was true that the Communist authorities hated dogs to the extent of instituting a citywide anti-dog campaign. Dogs were unproductive, they said, and ate an unearned share of the food raised by that paragon of all virtues, the Chinese peasant. I think the Communists really hated dogs because in a very tangible way the dog, loyal to individuals and not to beliefs, represented the last defense of the private citizen against the increasing nosiness of the police, the community, and the state. As a result, the Communists, besides insisting on the licensing of dogs, investigated and taxed the owners. How, the owners were asked, could they afford to feed a dog? Had they no shame about feeding dogs while human beings starved? Where did they get the money to keep a dog? And so on. In the end, the owner usually found it easier (as the authorities had expected he would) to quietly get rid of his dog, while the dogs kept by stubborn owners would often mysteriously disappear or be found poisoned.

The dogs of Peking had thus grown scarce, and precious to those few who still had them, so it was not just a dog that Aunt Chin was talking about but the only protector, halt and old though he was, of our right to smoke opium and play mah-jongg, to beat our children and keep secrets, to stand on our heads in the morning if we wanted to, and sleep in green and purple pajamas at night. Although Aunt Chin claimed not to like dogs, she had begun to feed this one from her own hands, and Baldy had come to love her more than anyone else in the family, looking at her with sad moist eyes, in a way her cats never did. Then, one morning a few days after Aunt Chin’s remarks about the Night People, old Baldy was nowhere to be found, and when, at the end of a week, he still had not been located, the family felt that it had lost something of great value, as indeed it had.

Source: David Kidd, “Dogs, Mah-Jongg, and Americans,” in Peking Story: the Last Days of Old China (New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2003) 131-2.

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