From The Autobiography of a Chinese Dog, written by Yo Fei and edited by his missus, Florence Ayscough (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926). Yo Fei was a Chinese ha pa dog 哈巴狗, the Chinese predecessor to the pug. He is named after the 12th century general Yue Fei 岳飛 (in modern spelling) — a very large personality to embody in such a little dog!
My favorite walk — and Missus took me out every day — lay across the Wu Sung Chiang, or Pine-Tree River of Wu, which foreigners call the ‘Soochow Creek.’ Some twelve centuries ago the famous poet Tu Fu closes a poem called ‘A Jest on the Theme of a Hills and Water Scroll by Wang Tsai’; which poem refers to the Western and the Eastern extremities of the Empire, with the words:
How did you obtain the sharp scissors from Ping Chou City —
Scissors which lay hold of the waters in the Pine-Tree River of Wu, and cut them in half.
I fancy that it is greatly changed now-a-days. Cottonmills, silk-mills, factories of all sorts line its sides; and there are literally ‘ten thousand’ boats pressed between its banks. These boats are loaded with every imaginable cargo from bales of cotton-seed to piles of pottery jars — jars of peacock blue and soft pellucid green glistening in the sunshine. They are the homes, too, of many thousand people, who are born, live, and die between their decks. So, as we ferried across the Wu Sung River, we saw Chinese life at every stage; here an infant tethered to the gunwale, there a coffin awaiting burial.
On the other side of the river we always landed at a police station. This was purely ‘modern style.’ Old China didn’t bother with policemen and such-like things: the village elders settled difficulties. I must say that the part of modern policemen or soldier does not fit my country-people very well; they appear much more at home as farmers and workmen — creating, not destroying. After all, soldiers are not so fashionable as they were, even in the West; and it seems a pity that the Chinese should try to make popular things that other people have tried and found inconvenient. (40-1)
The illustrations by Ayscough’s frequent collaborator and fellow expatriate Lucille Douglass really add to the charm of this most curious artifact.
While this quote was selected merely for my own amusement, and has nothing directly to do with Chinese dogs, other parts of the book offer more vivid depictions of life as a lapdog in Republican Era China. There’s also a fairly extensive summary and review of V.W.F. Collier’s Dogs of China and Japan in Art.
This is supposed to be my “fun” bedtime reading, but the grad student’s curse is to close read everything as if it were potential dissertation fodder. One thing I can say in favor of this book so far — if I ever find myself in a spiteful and foul mood after grading a stack of poorly-written student papers, I’ll be able to ream out my class by telling them that I’ve read dogs with more substantial thoughts on topics in Chinese culture, literature, and arts.
Okay, I’m not that mean. But henceforth, the temptation will always be there…