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10 Authentic Chinese Dog Breeds and Their Fascinating History

From Pekingese to Shar-Peis, learn the history of these adorable and beloved Chinese dog breeds.

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Introduction to Chinese dog breeds

You probably already know that all dogs come from wolves, but what you may not know is that said wolves evolved into different breeds all over the world. Today we’re zeroing in on Chinese dog breeds, many of which have rich and fascinating histories. From the petite-sized Pekinese to the almost teddy bear-like Chow Chow, we’re showcasing the ten most well-known breeds.

After you’ve perused this list, make sure to check out our roundups of Japanese dog breeds, Russian dog breeds, and Australian dog breeds. And while you’re at it, travel vicariously to Western Europe and learn about German dog breeds and Italian dog breeds.

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Chinese Pekingese dog sitting in a field
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1. Pekinese

The darling Pekingese is an ancient toy breed that was specifically bred for the ruling classes in China. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), they are fabled as being formed by the great Buddha, who shrunk a lion down into a smaller size. That makes sense seeing as how they’re famed for their lion-like manes!

Westerners first saw and documented the Pekingese after British soldiers stormed the emperor’s summer palace in Beijing during the Opium Wars in 1860. They were brought to the United States in the late 1890s and were later recognized by the AKC in 1906. Pekinese pups are known for their affectionate nature and loyalty to their humans. In 2018, this breed was ranked as 90 out of 200 in popularity on the AKC website.

Breed Overview
Height: 6 to 9 inches
Weight: up to 14 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years
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Chinese Shih Tzu dog walking in a field
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2. Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus are another ancient Chinese dog breed that has a lion-like appearance. They’re known for being playful and affectionate and were also bred behind closed Chinese palace doors for the upper classes. It is said that ancient breeders of this dog were gifted extravagant presents by the ruling classes if they could breed the most loving and outgoing lapdogs.

Shih Tzus have become extremely popular throughout the world since the 1930s and ranks 20/200 in popularity on the AKC website, in part because they are a relatively hypoallergenic breed. They can live up to 18 years which is unusual for dogs, and they’re on our list of 20 dog breeds that have the longest lifespans.

Breed Overview
Height: 9 to 11 inches
Weight: 9 to 16 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 18 years
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Chinese Shar Pei Dog close up outside
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3. Chinese Shar-Pei

Got wrinkles? The Shar-Pei usually has more than enough to go around. This calm and independent Chinese dog breed dates back to the southern provinces of ancient China during the Han Dynasty, which existed over 2,000 years ago. Shar-Pei dogs were bred specifically for peasants and farmers and served as protective watchdogs over livestock and homes. They are one of the quiet breeds of dogs that don’t bark too much.

Interestingly, they were banned by the Communist Party in 1949 and, sadly, were systematically targeted for slaughter. Though this nearly led them to extinction, Shar-Peis have made a comeback. The AKC recognized this pooch in 1992 and today it’s ranked 64 out of 200 in popularity.

Breed Overview
Height: 18 to 20 inches
Weight: 45 to 60 pounds
Life expectancy: 8 to 12 years
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chinese chow-chow dog portrait outside
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4. Chow Chow

The Chow Chow might just be the oldest dog breed in the world. Artifacts found from the Han Dynasty that dates all the way back to 206 B.C. seemingly depict this magnificent Chinese dog breed. We also know that they were owned and bred by both nobles and peasants alike. While this fluffy dog was originally bred for palaces, they have since evolved into excellent hunting, hauling, and herding pups.

They were discovered by Westerners in the 1820s when displayed as Chinese wild dogs in the London Zoo, and about 100 years later were formally recognized by the AKC in 1903. Today, they rank 75 out of 200 in popularity. Fun fact: According to the AKC, an emperor of the Tang Dynasty (8th century) owned about 5,000 of these pooches.

Breed Overview
Height: 17 to 20 inches
Weight: 45 to 70 pounds
Life expectancy: 8 to 12 years
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ChineseXiasi Quan dog close up
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5. Xiasi Quan

The Xiasi Quan dog breed is named after the place it originated: China’s Guizhou province in the village of Xiasi. It’s said that in the year 1080, locals in the village of Xiasi developed a sincere respect for the Xiasi Quan and believed that the breed would bring their owners wealth and prosperity. Then and through today, they are known as kind and gentle dogs who prefer to approach life from the inside of their owner’s home. This breed is also quite smart and typically trains easily. They are not yet recognized by the AKC and are not very popular in the United States.

Breed Overview
Height: 17 to 20 inches
Weight: 22 to 66 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years
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pure breed Chinese Crested dog standing in grass outside
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6. Chinese crested dog

The Chinese crested dog is a breed that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s believed that ancient, hairless dogs from Africa were brought to China, where the Chinese systematically bred these dogs into mini-sized versions. This breed was famously known as the “Chinese Ship Dog” for centuries as sailors from all over the world revered the breed for their ability to catch and kill dangerous disease-carrying vermin living aboard.

The Chinese crested is said to be alert and affectionate with their humans, and very lively. It did take a while, but this Chinese dog breed was eventually recognized by the AKC in 1991 and currently ranks 79th out of 200 on the AKC website.

Breed Overview
Height: 11 to 13 inches
Weight: 8 to 12 pounds
Life expectancy: 13 to 18 years
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Portrait Of Three Purebred Chinese Lhasa Apso dogs On Green Grass
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7. Lhasa Apso

The Lhasa Apso is another ancient Chinese breed that dates back a thousand years. Specifically, they’re believed to have originated from the Himalayan Mountains. Lhasa Apsos were primarily used as guards or soldiers who stood watch at the entrance of palaces and Buddhist monasteries. In fact, the Lhasa Apso is closely associated with the Dalai Lama; in the 1940s the Dalai Lama gave these dogs as presents, which helped to spread their popularity around the globe.

The name “Lhasa” comes from the name of Tibet’s sacred city, and Apso translates to “longhaired dog.” This loyal dog breed was first recognized by the AKC in 1935 and currently rates 71 out of 200 on their website.

Breed Overview
Height: 10 to 11 inches
Weight: 12 to 18 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
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Close-Up Of Japanese Chin Looking Away While Sitting On Field In Park
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8. Japanese Chin

We know what you’re thinking: the very name of this dog has “Japanese” in the title—how can it be a Chinese dog breed? Well, things get a bit hairy (pun intended) with its origins. Some historians believe that this breed came from Korea, others say China, and even some claim that this breed came to Japan via British merchant ships. What we do know is that they’re closely related to Tibetan Spaniels, which are also from China.

Japanese Chins are known for being highly affectionate, and they spend ample time in the laps of their most trusted humans. They were recognized by the AKC in 1888 and are currently ranked as the 104th most popular dog breed on the AKC’s site.

Breed Overview
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: 7 to 11 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years
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Chinese Tibetan terrier dog standing in the forest with a bunch of fallen leaves surrounding him
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9. Tibetan terrier

The sensitive and affectionate Tibetan terrier is not really a terrier at all. As you can see from their unique appearance, they hardly share any qualities with the terriers we’re familiar with in the West. They have a unique double coat with a wooly undercoat and ultra-long topcoat, and snowshoe-like feet. It makes sense, then, that the Tibetan Terrier was bred for the Himalayan mountains.

Like the Lhaso Apso, they have a history of being seen in Buddhist monasteries accompanying the Dalai Lama. Throughout their long history, this breed was also used as a watchdog and herder. They rank 96 out of 200 on the AKC’s website, and the organization first recognized them in 1973.

Breed Overview
Height: 14 to 17 inches
Weight: 18 to 30 pounds
Life expectancy: 15 to 16 years
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Chinese Puginese Dog Portrait in studio with dark background
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10. Puginese

Dog breeders love their portmanteaus, and the puginese is no exception. This pug-meets Pekinese was established around the 2000s and, though they’re not yet recognized by the AKC, are quite popular. Interestingly, both the pug and the Pekingese are believed to have come from a similar ancestor of the now-extinct Chinese Happa Dog, which dates back as far as 1115 BCE.

Breed Overview
Height: 6 to 14 inches
Weight: 7 to 18 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a Phoenix-based veteran lifestyle reporter covering home and garden, pets, wellness and travel for outlets such as Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Insider and Reader's Digest. She received her bachelor's degree from Franklin College of Indiana's Pulliam School of Journalism, graduating magna cum laude. She has a second bachelor's degree in Philosophy.