The Origins and History of Shih Tzu in Ancient China

It’s hard to believe that such a cute and tiny dog breed like the Shih Tzu has a rich history that dates back to ancient China. This beloved dog has been a favorite companion of emperors, a symbol of good fortune, and even believed to have healing powers. In this article, we will delve into the murky origins of the Shih Tzu, explore its role in ancient Chinese society, and discover the unique ways the Chinese utilized this precious breed. Get ready to learn about the fascinating history of the Shih Tzu!

Origins of the Shih Tzu

Origins Of The Shih Tzu
The origins of the small and regal Shih Tzu breed are a source of much fascination and intrigue for dog lovers worldwide. Its lineage can be traced back to ancient China, where it was bred for the imperial elite and served as a symbol of royalty, good fortune, and healing. The breeding of Shih Tzus was a highly coveted and closely guarded practice, with only the most skilled and respected breeders allowed to produce the prized dogs. This article will explore the fascinating history and origins of the Shih Tzu breed, shedding light on its evolution from a revered status symbol in ancient China to its current popularity in the West. Let’s dive into the story of this magnificent breed and uncover its fascinating past.

Breeding of the Shih Tzu

The breeding of the Shih Tzu is a fascinating topic that sheds light on the origins of these beloved dogs. Dating back to ancient China, the Shih Tzu was bred as a companion dog for royalty and nobility. Their breeding was carefully controlled to maintain their small size, sweet disposition, and luxurious coat.

Size: The Shih Tzu was bred to be a small dog, ideally weighing between 9 and 16 pounds. Their small size made them the perfect lap dog for the nobility of China.

Disposition: The Shih Tzu was also bred for its sweet and affectionate nature. They were intended to be loyal companions, often spending their days nestled in the laps of royalty.

Coat: One of the most striking features of the Shih Tzu is their luxurious coat. They were bred for their long, silky hair, which was often styled and ornamented with bows and ribbons. This coat required regular grooming and maintenance, a task that was often entrusted to the servant class of ancient China.

The careful breeding of the Shih Tzu ensured that they were perfect companions for the nobility of ancient China. Their small size, sweet disposition, and luxurious coat made them highly sought after, and they quickly became a symbol of prestige and power. Today, the popularity of the Shih Tzu has spread beyond China and they have become a beloved pet all over the world.

Shih Tzu popularity in the West is a testament to their enduring appeal. However, their origins and history can be traced back to their important role in Chinese society, as well as their influence on Japanese art and culture, and their connection to Tibetan Buddhism. Even today, the Shih Tzu is still considered a royal breed in some countries, such as Korea.

Emperor’s Favorite Companion

During the Tang Dynasty, the Shih Tzu breed had become highly favored among emperors and their families. It was during this time that they were dubbed the “lion dog” due to their resemblance to the lion, which was a highly respected and revered animal in Chinese culture. The Shih Tzu soon became the emperor’s favorite companion, as they were small enough to carry around and provided great companionship.

It is said that the Shih Tzu was so highly valued by the emperor that he had a special group of palace eunuchs solely dedicated to their care , ensuring that the dogs received the best treatment and attention. The eunuchs were responsible for grooming the dogs, feeding them, and even carrying them around the palace.

In addition to serving as a loyal companion to the emperor, the Shih Tzu also had a practical purpose in the palace. They were trained to detect any potential threats or intruders that entered the palace, serving as watchdogs. However, the Shih Tzu’s gentle and affectionate nature meant that they were not aggressive towards humans, making them a perfect addition to the palace.

The Shih Tzu’s popularity among the royal family also led to the breed being highly sought after by Chinese nobility and aristocrats. During this time period, owning a Shih Tzu was a symbol of wealth and status in Chinese society.

The Shih Tzu’s role as the emperor’s favorite companion highlighted their importance and value in Chinese culture. From serving as watchdogs to providing companionship, the Shih Tzu proved themselves to be a versatile and cherished breed in ancient China.

An International Gift

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the Shih Tzu’s popularity had spread throughout China and reached other parts of the world. Legends claim that Emperor Ling of Han (168-189 AD) gave a pair of Shih Tzus to the Japanese emperor as a sign of peace and goodwill. This gesture paved the way for many other Shih Tzu international gifts.

Some notable instances are:

  • Chiang Kai-Shek, the former leader of Taiwan, gifted a pair of Shih Tzus to the American general George S. Patton in 1944.
  • Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip received a couple of Shih Tzus in 1959 from the people of Malta.
  • In 1961, John F. Kennedy and his family were gifted a Shih Tzu puppy by a United States Senator, and they named him “Pushinka,” meaning fluffy in Russian.
  • In 1972, the Chinese Premier Zhou En-Lai gave a Shih Tzu to the Spanish ambassador’s wife, which she named “Hua Hua.”

These international gifts only attest to the Shih Tzu’s widespread appeal and popularity, even among foreign dignitaries. The breed’s charming demeanor, loyal character, and cute looks made it an excellent ambassador for China’s goodwill message. Today, the Shih Tzu continues to be a beloved breed worldwide, cherished for its playful spirit and affectionate nature.

Shih Tzu in Ancient Chinese Society

Shih Tzu In Ancient Chinese Society
The Shih Tzu breed has been an integral part of Chinese society for centuries. The story of this beloved dog is not only one of companionship and loyalty, but of beauty, grace, and riches. From the lap of the emperor to the temples of ancient China, Shih Tzus were regarded as more than just pets- they were symbols of royalty, good fortune, and even healing powers. Let’s delve into the fascinating history and cultural significance of these adorable pups.

Developed as a Lap Dog

Shih Tzu was developed as a lap dog in ancient China. They were bred specifically for this purpose and were beloved by Chinese royals and nobles as companion animals. The origins of the Shih Tzu can be traced back to the Tang dynasty in the 7th century, where they gained popularity as lap dogs for the royal court.

Here are some interesting facts about Shih Tzu as lap dogs:

– Lap dogs were primarily kept by members of the royal family, as well as high-ranking officials and aristocrats. Shih Tzu were a popular choice due to their small size, which made them easy to carry around and keep close to their owners.

– Shih Tzu were also known for their affectionate and loyal personalities, making them excellent companions for their owners. They were often seen curled up on the laps of their owners, soaking up their attention and affection.

– The breeding of Shih Tzu as lap dogs was a deliberate process, and breeders selected dogs with desirable traits such as small size, a flat face, and a soft, luxurious coat. This breeding led to the development of the modern Shih Tzu breed that we know and love today.

– In ancient China, owning a lap dog such as a Shih Tzu was seen as a status symbol. It showed that the owner was wealthy enough to afford such a luxury, and that they could spend their time playing with their beloved pet instead of working.

– The popularity of lap dogs continued throughout the centuries, and Shih Tzu were a favorite breed among Chinese nobles during the Ming and Qing dynasties. They were often depicted in paintings and sculptures, showcasing their beauty and their importance as lap dogs in Chinese society.

Shih Tzu were developed as lap dogs in ancient China, and they were beloved by the royal court and high-ranking officials as loyal companions. Their small size and affectionate personality made them ideal lap dogs, and they continue to be popular pets today due to their charming and loving nature.

Symbols of Good Fortune

The Shih Tzu dog breed has been considered as a symbol of good fortune in Ancient China, and it is not hard to see why. The long-haired, affectionate dogs with striking black eyes and a distinctive underbite stole the hearts of many, and they became a popular pet among the Chinese nobility.

According to Chinese folklore, the origins of the Shih Tzu can be traced back to a mythical creature called a “lion dog,” which was said to have been bestowed upon the Emperor by the gods. The Chinese believed that having a Shih Tzu in the home would bring good luck and prosperity, which made the breed highly sought after.

The Shih Tzu’s status as a symbol of good fortune is evident in many aspects of Ancient Chinese society. For instance, the dogs were often depicted in Chinese art, such as paintings and sculptures, as well as in pottery and other decorative objects. They were also used as motifs in traditional Chinese embroidery and tapestry.

Additionally, the Shih Tzu was often given as a gift to Chinese nobility and members of the Imperial family, a sign of respect and admiration for the recipient. These dogs were considered an important part of Chinese culture and were treated with the utmost care and reverence.

In Ancient China, people believed that the Shih Tzu had the power to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. In fact, many homes had a statue of a Shih Tzu placed near the entrance as a protective talisman. The dogs were also believed to have healing powers and were used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Shih Tzu’s status as a symbol of good fortune in Ancient China was evident in various aspects of Chinese culture, from art to gift-giving to the power to ward off evil spirits. It is no wonder that the breed became such a beloved companion among the nobility and members of the Imperial family. The Shih Tzu’s reputation continues to this day, and they remain a popular breed all over the world.

Exclusively Owned by Royalty

During ancient times in China, owning a Shih Tzu was a privilege exclusive to royalty. These pampered pooches were considered as valuable as any other treasures or jewels, seen as a symbol of wealth and nobility. Only those belonging to the royal family were allowed to own and breed these precious dogs, and owning one was a sign of social status.

Not only was owning a Shih Tzu a sign of wealth, but it was also a status symbol for the royal family. The breed was so beloved that it was often given as gifts to important dignitaries and officials as a sign of respect and goodwill. Its luxurious, silky coat and adorable appearance made it a popular lap dog among aristocrats, who often pampered them with the finest food and luxurious accessories.

Indeed, the Shih Tzu’s natural cuteness and cuddliness made it a favorite among Chinese royalty. They were held in such high regard that they were often depicted in art along with the Emperor and his family. Their images could be seen on tapestries, murals, and other decorative items found in the emperor’s palace.

It was only in the 20th century that the Shih Tzu was introduced to the rest of the world when British and American soldiers discovered them during their occupation of China. Since then, the breed has become quite popular worldwide, but it still retains its status as a royal breed. Today, owning a Shih Tzu is still seen as a sign of style and sophistication, and they remain a beloved and treasured companion to those who are lucky enough to have them.

Key Takeaway: The Shih Tzu was once exclusive to royalty in China, and owning one was a sign of wealth and social status. Its natural cuteness and cuddliness made it a favorite among Chinese aristocracy, and it still retains its status as a royal breed today.

Believed to Have Healing Powers

The Shih Tzu may have been known for its adorable looks, but ancient Chinese believed there was more to this breed than just its looks. According to historical records, the Shih Tzu was believed to have healing powers and was often used to aid those who were ill or struggling with health issues.

Healing Properties

The Shih Tzu was said to have a calming and therapeutic influence on its owners. Some believed that the warmth and energy emanating from the dog’s body could help ease pain and reduce stress. Others believed that simply being around these dogs could help improve overall health and well-being.

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, the Shih Tzu was believed to be especially effective at promoting healing and wellness. According to some sources, the breed was used in conjunction with acupuncture to promote energy flow through the body and help reduce pain and inflammation. Others believed that simply owning a Shih Tzu and petting them regularly could help improve overall health.

Modern Research

While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support these ancient claims, modern research has shed some light on the potential health benefits of owning a dog. Studies have shown that petting a dog can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Additionally, many people find that their mood and overall sense of well-being improve when they spend time with a furry friend.

The Shih Tzu was believed to possess healing powers in ancient China. While this belief is not backed by modern research, it is clear that the breed has a positive effect on its owners and can promote health and well-being in many ways. Whether you are looking for a furry companion or a way to improve your own health, the Shih Tzu is a breed worth considering.

Beliefs about Shih Tzu’sExplanation
Calming and therapeutic influenceThe warmth and energy emanating from the dog’s body could help ease pain and reduce stress.
Promotes energy flow through the bodyShih Tzu was used in conjunction with acupuncture to promote energy flow through the body and help reduce pain and inflammation.
Reduced stress and lower blood pressureStudies have shown that petting a dog can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
Positive effect on owner’s well-beingThe Shih Tzu can promote health and well-being in many ways for its owners and is a breed worth considering.

Uses of Shih Tzu in Ancient China

Throughout history, Shih Tzu dogs have played an important role in Chinese society, serving not only as beloved companions but also in important practical applications. In this section of the article, we will explore the various uses of Shih Tzu in ancient China, from their roles as guard dogs in temples and monasteries to their influence on art, folklore, and music. Join us as we uncover the rich history and multifaceted nature of these adorable canines.

Guard Dogs in Temples and Monasteries

In ancient China, Shih Tzu were highly valued not only as a companion animal but also as guard dogs. One of the places where Shih Tzu were commonly used as guard dogs was in the temples and monasteries.

The use of Shih Tzu as guard dogs in temples and monasteries can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty in the 6th century. During this time, temples and monasteries were constructed all over China, and they were often targeted by robbers and thieves. The Shih Tzu was considered the perfect breed for guarding these sacred places due to their loyalty, bravery, and intelligence.

The temperament of Shih Tzu made them suitable for this role. They are naturally alert and have a strong sense of smell, which helps them detect any intruders. Additionally, their small size and agility enabled them to navigate through small spaces and chase intruders without much trouble.

Shih Tzu in Chinese culture has always been associated with good luck, and having them as guard dogs in temples and monasteries was believed to bring prosperity and protection to the places. In fact, Shih Tzu were often given as gifts to monks and nuns as a token of goodwill.

It is interesting to note that in some temples and monasteries, Shih Tzu were given a special status and were considered as sacred animals. They were provided with proper nutrition and care and were even given special blessings by the monks.

Below is a table summarizing the use of Shih Tzu as guard dogs in temples and monasteries:

Use of Shih Tzu in Ancient ChinaDescription
Guard Dogs in Temples and MonasteriesShih Tzu were used as guard dogs in temples and monasteries due to their loyalty, bravery, and intelligence.
Cultural BeliefsShih Tzu were believed to bring prosperity and protection to the places they guarded.
Sacred AnimalsIn some temples and monasteries, Shih Tzu were given a special status and were considered as sacred animals. They were provided with proper nutrition and care and were even given special blessings by the monks.

Inspiration for Chinese Art

Through the ages, the Shih Tzu has been a beloved pet in China, and its presence can be seen in many forms of Chinese art. The breed has served as inspiration for artists, painters, and sculptors, and its unique characteristics have been immortalized in statues, paintings, and other forms of art. Some aspects of how the Shih Tzu was represented in Chinese art are:

  • Portrayed as Royal Pets: Chinese artists often depicted Shih Tzus in paintings alongside noble figures, such as emperors and their consorts. This elevated the breed’s status and emphasized its association with the highest levels of society.
  • Symbol of Good Fortune: The Shih Tzu has been associated with good fortune and prosperity since ancient times. This belief was reflected in many works of art, such as paintings of the breed alongside images of deities and gods.
  • Exhibit of Rural scenes: Shih Tzu are also seen in Chinese genre paintings that depicted everyday scenes of rural life. In this setting, the breed is typically depicted as a companion to farmers and peasants, symbolizing their connection to the land and the natural world.
  • Sculptures: Statues of Shih Tzu have been crafted from various materials, including porcelain, jade and bronze, and these were often given as gifts to royalty or in honor of significant events. The sculptures captured the breed’s cute and endearing appearance, and some of them also had functional purposes like incense burners.

The Shih Tzu’s role as a muse for the Chinese artists has been enduring. Even today, modern-day painters still depict the breed in their works, further continuing the breed’s legacy as a cultural icon. This furry companion remains a favorite subject of art and continues to lift the aesthetic values of Chinese culture.

Animated in Folklore and Music

Shih Tzus have had a significant role in Chinese folklore and music, and have been depicted in various ways. One such example is the myth of “The Lion and the Marmoset”, in which a brave Shih Tzu saves a marmoset from the clutches of a lion.

According to legend, the Shih Tzu was originally bred from a lion and a monkey. While the lion provided the Shih Tzu with its courage and bravery, the monkey gave it its animated and playful disposition.

In Chinese music, Shih Tzus are often depicted as joyful and energetic companions. One famous piece of music featuring the Shih Tzu is the “Spring Festival Overture”, which celebrates the Chinese New Year festivities. The piece includes a solo for a Shih Tzu, played on a pipa – a traditional Chinese instrument.

Shih Tzus were also popular subjects for Chinese painters, who frequently portrayed them in playful and lively positions. These paintings often depict the Shih Tzu as small but lively creatures, with thick fur and long, silky tails.

The animated and playful nature of the Shih Tzu has been cherished in Chinese culture for centuries. Their inclusion in folklore, music, and art is a testament to the special place they hold in the hearts of the Chinese people.


After delving into the origins and history of the Shih Tzu in ancient China, one can’t help but feel astounded by the rich and colorful past of this beloved breed. From being selectively bred by emperors to accompany them in their luxurious lifestyle, to being used as symbols of good luck, and even as healers, the Shih Tzu was an integral part of Chinese society.

It is fascinating to see how the breed evolved over time, from being exclusively owned by royalty to being given as international gifts. The close relationship of the Shih Tzu with the Chinese culture is evident even today, as the breed remains a popular pet not only in China but across the world.

The unique qualities and abilities of the Shih Tzu have been appreciated for centuries, as they have been used in various roles, such as guard dogs in temples and monasteries, and even as inspirations for Chinese art and folklore. The breed’s presence in ancient Chinese society is evident in many artistic representations and writings. Their integral role in Chinese society and culture has helped the Shih Tzu to retain its lofty status, and it remains one of the most popular breeds even today.

Overall, the history of the Shih Tzu is a testament to the enduring appeal of this breed and its close relationship with Chinese culture. No doubt, lovers of this charming and lovable breed will continue to appreciate them for generations to come. Whether as lapdogs, symbols of good fortune, or healing companions, the Shih Tzu’s place in ancient Chinese society is secure and enduring.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the name “Shih Tzu”?

The name “Shih Tzu” literally means “lion dog” in Chinese, as the breed was thought to resemble the lion in traditional Chinese culture.

Are Shih Tzus good family pets?

Yes, Shih Tzus are known for their affectionate personalities and gentle nature, making them great family pets.

What health issues are common in Shih Tzus?

Shih Tzus are prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia, ear infections, and respiratory problems, so regular check-ups with a vet are important.

How can I train my Shih Tzu?

Positive reinforcement training techniques, such as treats and praise, work well with Shih Tzus. Consistency and patience are key in their training.

Can Shih Tzus live in apartments?

Yes, Shih Tzus can adapt well to apartment living as long as they receive enough exercise and mental stimulation.

How often do Shih Tzus need to be groomed?

Shih Tzus have a long, thick coat that requires daily brushing and regular professional grooming every 6-8 weeks to prevent matting.

What type of food should I feed my Shih Tzu?

It is recommended to feed your Shih Tzu a high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their age, size, and activity level. Consult with your vet for specific recommendations.

Are Shih Tzus prone to separation anxiety?

Yes, Shih Tzus can develop separation anxiety and prefer not to be left alone for extended periods of time. It’s important to gradually train them to be comfortable with alone time.

Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?

No dog is completely hypoallergenic, but Shih Tzus have a low-shedding coat that can be better tolerated by people with allergies.

How long does a Shih Tzu typically live?

The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is 10-16 years, but with proper care, they can live even longer.


Matthew Farthing

Matthew Farthing

Сontributing author at DogCareHacks, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

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