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I am intrigued by the work of V.W.F. Collier, writing in 1921 on the significance of dogs in Far Eastern culture. I have found no information on his (?) biography, who he was and why he was in a position to write a book on Dogs of China and Japan in Nature and Art. Was he some kind of statesman or envoy in China, based primarily in Beijing, as were most of his native informants? What kind of person was he in the UK? What dogs of his own did he keep? What was the extent of his relationship to the fancy?

At any rate, this is one of his speculations as to why no such thing as a dog fancy or a more rationalized system of breeding emerged in China:

To the Western observer, the Chinese appear to have been far more successful in modifying the colour and form of canine breeds than in improving the powers of scent and sporting qualities of their dogs. This is no doubt largely due to the fact that for the last hundred years China has, from the point of view of sport, gone backwards. The Imperial hunts have been given up, preservation of the Imperial hunting-parks and game protection have ceased throughout China. The shot-gun, known to the Emperor Ch’ien Lung — to whom a specimen now to be seen in the National museum in Peking was sent by George III of England — though made in China is used for commercial rather than sporting purposes. When shot with it the game is more often sitting than on the wing. Powder and shot are too expensive, and their supply to a mis-ruled people under a weak Government [sic] is not encouraged. Consequently, it is not surprising to find in China but little of that care and skill which are devoted to the training of sports dogs in Europe. (58-9)

This excerpt comes from the chapter “Sporting and Guard Dogs” (Dogs of China and Japan in Nature and Art. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1921).

Hunting Scene, Ch'ien Lung Period

It seems arbitrary that Collier singled out the presence (or absence) of firearms as a factor that should lead to the refinement of dog breeding. Never having owned or fired a gun and never having been privy to the world of hunters, I’m not clear on the logic that derives sport hunting from a developed gun culture, though I can see how you would get from game sports to game dogs. There must certainly be other ways to get to sport hunting without widespread fervor for firearms. A pack of hunting hounds is just one of many tools that enter into play. Though the functionality of Chinese hunting dogs was documented in the Book of Rites centuries before even the Romans (51), contemporary specimen lacked some demonstration of finely-honed skill that elevated hounding from the level of brute necessity to artistry, in Collier’s assessment.

The thing is that Collier did not step away from Han and Manchu Chinese or elite (imperial) Chinese dogs to uncover the practices of real hunters. Had he been able to roam more ethnically muddled areas of the Southwestern borderlands or the mountains of Formosa, for example, he would have seen minorities and aborigines exercising a close working relationship with their hounds. But at the time of Collier’s writing, Formosa had already been a Japanese colony for a couple decades, and the colonial administration was far more invested in the violent suppression of aboriginal uprisings than any anthrozoological studies of native human-dog relationships.

This book is not trivial work, but what is documented herein is still confined to elite, official history. It’s the story of dogs traded as state presents, and breeds that traveled along channels of political power and contested trade routes. The Japanese Chin, for example, is deserving of mention only insofar as it can be traced back to Chinese origins. None of those which would be later enshrined as THE native, nationally-treasured Nihon Ken are even mentioned. And collectively, they are all interesting as portable possessions, objects and “toys” whose value is legitimized from afar, in the laps of foreign (European) dignitaries.

So it might be said that guns did nothing for Chinese dogs, but caused them to be brought to the rest of the world!

Qing Dynasty Pekingese Dog, Shen Zhenlin 沈振麟

To be fair, Collier does introduce his book by pointing out that canine cultural and genetic influence is bidirectional:

It is hoped that even to those who take no interest in dogs, the following pages may be attractive because of the sidelights thrown on Chinese history, together with Eastern palace life, and the inter-State relations of the long line of Emperors who have dominated the world’s oldest ruling race. Modern research tends to prove that more of the East than was generally imagined is akin to the West. On the other hand, not a little of Western canine life owes its origin and distinctive peculiarities to the East. (ix)

While I can’t help but be skeptical as to the quality and intentions of the “modern research” to which Collier alludes, his own research is generally presented without grossly Orientalist gestures as one might anticipate from a book of its era. Collier would probably be the first to agree that there’s much more going on than his limited sources will reveal. As of yet, few have taken up his calls to make serious study of the historical significance of Asian dogs.

NOTE: The book, having been published in 1921, is now in the public domain. The text is freely available online if you search for the title. After pulling an original edition from my university library, I made an impulsive decision to purchase what I thought was a reprint edition on Amazon.com, listed as having been put out by Nabu Press in 2010. As it turns out, it’s a low-quality black and white facsimile, printed on cheap photocopy paper, priced at an exorbitant rate. And it’s the very book that I’ve already checked out from my library, which means if I wanted a cheap photocopy for my collection, I could have made one for myself. I confirmed it was the same copy because of the penciled margin notations and perforated library stamps, all of which were reproduced.

I e-mailed Amazon as to my dissatisfaction, and they offered to take back my order for a full refund. Hopefully they’ll also update the description to note that they are selling a PRINT ON DEMAND copy, since this was not at all mentioned in the title’s product description when I ordered.

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