The Rich and Colorful History of Shih Tzu in Chinese Culture: A Closer Look

As you stroll down the busy streets of China, you may come across a furry little friend with a flat face and big bright eyes. This adorable little breed is known as the Shih Tzu, and its history runs deep in the Chinese culture. But what is it about this little lion dog that makes it so significant? Join me as we delve into the rich history of the Shih Tzu, explore its symbolic meaning in Chinese culture, examine its influence in modern times, and discuss the importance of preserving its cultural heritage. From royal gifts to conservation efforts, this article will explore every aspect of the beloved Shih Tzu. So, sit back, relax, and let’s take a journey through time and discover the fascinating significance of Shih Tzu in Chinese culture.

The Origin and History of Shih Tzu in China

The Origin And History Of Shih Tzu In China
As one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, the Shih Tzu has an interesting and intricate history dating back centuries. Originating in China, this magnificent breed has served various purposes throughout its history, becoming a valued member of many royal households. From Ming to Qing dynasties, these dogs have been revered and admired for their elegance and beauty. In fact, they were even kept in the imperial palace and served as royal companions. To learn more about the history of Shih Tzu in China’s royal households, let’s take a deeper look into the breed’s fascinating story.

The Ming and Qing Dynasties

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Shih Tzu breed flourished as a result of its royal patronage. The Shih Tzu was much loved by emperors, who kept them as house pets and companions. They were considered symbols of status, wealth, and luxury. In fact, it was common for members of the imperial family to commission portraits of themselves with their beloved Shih Tzus.

The imperial court had strict rules about the breeding and grooming of Shih Tzus. Only the finest breeding stock was used in the palace, and the dogs were groomed daily by a team of specially trained servants. It was said that the Shih Tzus who lived in the imperial palace led lives of luxury, with the best food, care, and attention.

Shih Tzus were also given as gifts to visiting dignitaries and foreign diplomats. In this way, the breed began to spread throughout China and eventually reached other parts of the world. As their popularity grew, so did the demand for Shih Tzus, which unfortunately led to a decline in their overall quality. Breeding practices became less stringent, and the breed lost some of its unique traits and characteristics.

Despite this, the Shih Tzu continued to be a beloved breed among the Chinese people. They were considered a source of pride and joy, and many families kept them as pets. Even today, the Shih Tzu remains one of the most popular dog breeds in China and is celebrated for its rich history and significant cultural meaning.

If you want to learn more about Shih Tzu’s role in the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties, you can find more information through this link.

The Palace Dogs

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Shih Tzus were highly regarded as palace dogs and were kept by aristocrats and emperors. These tiny dogs were pampered and treated as royalty, with their own servants and luxurious living quarters.

According to historical records, the Shih Tzu was a favorite of the Chinese emperors and was often given as gifts to royalty in other countries. These dogs were bred and groomed exclusively for the imperial court, with breeding practices closely guarded and only available to those in the highest echelons of society.

To highlight the lavish lifestyle of palace dogs, we can create an HTML table to show the comparison of living conditions between the commoners and Shih Tzu palace dogs:

CommonersShih Tzu Palace Dogs
Living QuartersSmall, simple homesPalatial, luxurious living quarters with their own servants
Grooming and CareSelf-grooming, occasional bathingMultiple daily grooming sessions, special diets, and luxurious baths with rare and expensive products
ExerciseFrequent manual labor and outdoor activitiesIndoor playtime and daily walks in royal gardens
Accessories and ClothingFunctional and practical clothingDesigner clothing, accessories, and jewel-encrusted collars

It’s safe to say that the life of a Shih Tzu palace dog was far more elaborate than that of the commoner. Even today, the breed is still associated with the royalty and elevated social standing.

To read more about the Shih Tzu’s role in Chinese royalty culture and the emperors who kept them, check out our article on famous emperors and their Shih Tzus.

The Royal Gifts

Shih Tzu has been a highly valued breed in China for centuries, especially among the royals. Shih Tzu was often given as a royal gift to the emperor or other high-ranking officials. This not only served as a symbol of friendship and loyalty but also has elevated the breed’s status as a symbol of wealth and nobility.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the breeding of Shih Tzu was mainly reserved for the royals. The emperors and their spouses even had their own breeding programs, which resulted in distinct bloodlines that were highly coveted. The royal Shih Tzus were kept in the palace and were given the utmost care and attention.

It was not just the breeding of Shih Tzu that was important; they also had to be presented in the best possible way. Grooming was considered an art form, and professional groomers were employed to keep the dogs looking their best. The long, flowing fur was often styled into intricate patterns, adorned with ribbons, and decorated with precious stones. The royal grooming of Shih Tzu was often seen as a way to display the wealth and power of their owners.

The royals considered these dogs as parts of their family. They took care of Shih Tzu as they did with their children, and they were given access to the same luxuries as their owners. They even had their own servants who would feed them from golden bowls and provide them with special treats.

The tradition of gifting a Shih Tzu as a royal gift continued even outside of China. The breed gained popularity among European royalty during the 19th century, with Queen Victoria herself owning several Shih Tzu dogs. In recent years, Shih Tzu has gained popularity globally, with many people admiring their adorable looks and charming personality.

However, the breeding of Shih Tzu for the purpose of gifting to the royals resulted in some negative outcomes. Breeding for aesthetic purposes led to various health issues in Shih Tzu, and it took a while to address these concerns. But today, there are efforts to breed Shih Tzu with an emphasis on preserving their healthy bloodlines.

The history of Shih Tzu as a royal gift underscores its significance in Chinese culture. Whether in China or abroad, Shih Tzu is considered a breed of noble origins and a symbol of prosperity. If you want to read more about the role of Shih Tzu in the history of China, visit our article on Shih Tzu royalty breeding.

The Symbolic Meaning of Shih Tzu in Chinese Culture

The Symbolic Meaning Of Shih Tzu In Chinese Culture
The significance of Shih Tzu in Chinese culture goes beyond their adorable and fluffy appearance. For centuries, these small dogs have been highly revered for their symbolic meaning, earning them a special place in Chinese society. Understanding the cultural significance of Shih Tzu requires a closer look at their history and how they have been depicted in art and literature. In this section, we will explore the symbolic meaning of Shih Tzu in Chinese culture, including their representation as the lion dog and the foo dog, as well as their association with prosperity. We will also examine how Shih Tzu were once owned exclusively by Chinese royals and the grooming rituals they undergo. To learn more about the history of Shih Tzu in China, check out our previous section “The Origin and History of Shih Tzu in China”.

The Lion Dog

The Shih Tzu breed is often referred to as the “lion dog” due to its distinctively lion-like appearance. This nickname is no coincidence, as the breed was originally created to resemble the lion, which holds a significant place in Chinese mythology and culture.

The Significance of the Lion in Chinese Culture

In Chinese art and mythology, the lion is seen as a powerful and majestic creature, often associated with royalty and wealth. It is also a symbol of protection, believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. The lion dance, a popular component of traditional Chinese celebrations, is a colorful and energetic performance that features dancers wearing lion costumes and mimicking the movements of the animal.

The Lion-Like Appearance of Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu’s distinctive lion-like appearance is due to its long and flowing coat, which is often groomed to resemble a mane around the face and neck. The breed’s squat and sturdy frame, coupled with its broad head, round eyes, and flat face, also help to create the illusion of a miniature lion.

The Connection Between Shih Tzu and Chinese Royalty

As mentioned earlier, the lion is often associated with royalty in Chinese culture. It’s no surprise that the Shih Tzu was a beloved pet of the Chinese royals for centuries. The breed was so highly regarded that they even had their own special quarters in the imperial palace, where they were groomed and pampered by dedicated attendants.

The Legacy of Shih Tzu as a Royal Pet

Today, the association between Shih Tzu and Chinese royalty is still strong. Many breeders still strive to produce dogs that closely resemble the original palace dogs, and the breed remains popular among those who are drawn to their history, elegance, and distinctive appearance.

The Grooming Rituals of Shih Tzu

Perhaps the most iconic aspect of Shih Tzu’s connection to Chinese royalty is their grooming rituals. Shih Tzu’s long and flowing coat requires daily brushing and careful attention to maintain its luster and shape. This process can be time-consuming and requires a great deal of expertise, which is why many owners turn to professional groomers who specialize in the breed.


The significance of the Shih Tzu in Chinese culture is undeniable. From its origins as a royal pet to its association with the lion and with prosperity, the breed holds a special place in the hearts of many. Whether you are a breeder, owner, or simply an admirer of the breed, the Shih Tzu’s rich history and legacy is one that should be cherished and celebrated.

Learn more about the Shih Tzu’s role in Chinese royalty.

The Foo Dog

In Chinese culture, the Shih Tzu has been associated with the Foo Dog, a powerful mythological creature known for its unyielding loyalty and fierce protection. The Foo Dog, also known as the “Lion of Buddha”, is believed to have originated during the Han dynasty and has since been a symbol of guardianship in Chinese architecture.

Symbolism of the Foo Dog

The Foo Dog is often depicted in pairs, with one male and one female, guarding the entrance to a temple, a palace, or a wealthy household. It is believed that the Foo Dog can ward off evil spirits and protect its owners from harm. The male Foo Dog is often represented with a globe under its paw, while the female Foo Dog is portrayed with a cub.

Resemblance with the Shih Tzu

It is said that the Shih Tzu’s lion-like appearance is what led to its association with the Foo Dog. The long, flowing hair of the Shih Tzu’s coat is often styled to resemble a lion’s mane, and its broad head and short nose give it a regal appearance.

Many Shih Tzu’s were bred to resemble the imperial lion dogs that guarded the palaces of the Chinese emperors. This is why the Shih Tzu has traditionally been regarded as a symbol of wealth and nobility in Chinese society.


The Foo Dog has been an important symbol of guardianship in China for centuries, with many Shih Tzu’s being bred to resemble this powerful mythological creature. This is why the Shih Tzu has been associated with prosperity, good fortune, and protection. To learn more about how Shih Tzu’s were groomed and maintained in royal households, refer to our article on “Shih Tzu Royal Grooming”.

The Symbol of Prosperity

Throughout Chinese history, the Shih Tzu has been associated with prosperity and wealth. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Appearance: With their luxurious coat and regal bearing, Shih Tzus have always been seen as a symbol of opulence and refinement. Their small size and delicate features also contributed to their popularity among the upper classes. In fact, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), Shih Tzus were known as “little lions” and were often kept in the laps of aristocrats.
  • Role in Feng Shui: The Chinese practice of Feng Shui places great emphasis on the arrangement of objects and living spaces in a way that promotes good fortune and harmony. The Shih Tzu is considered to be a particularly auspicious creature in Feng Shui, as it is believed to bring positive energy and prosperity into the home.
  • Gifts to Emperors: In ancient China, Shih Tzus were often given as gifts to the emperor as a way of showing respect and loyalty. It was believed that by offering such a valuable and prized gift, the giver would be granted favor and blessings from the emperor.
  • Association with Wealthy Families: Due to their status as palace dogs and companions of the rich and powerful, Shih Tzus came to be seen as a marker of social status and prosperity. Today, many wealthy families in China and around the world still keep Shih Tzus as beloved pets and symbols of their wealth and success.

All of these factors have helped to cement the Shih Tzu’s role as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in Chinese culture. In many ways, the Shih Tzu represents the best of what Chinese society has to offer: refinement, elegance, and a connection to the past. Despite the challenges of modern life, the significance of the Shih Tzu in Chinese culture remains as strong as ever, reminding us of the rich history and enduring legacy of this beloved breed.

The Influence of Shih Tzu in Modern China and Beyond

The Influence Of Shih Tzu In Modern China And Beyond
When it comes to the cultural significance of the Shih Tzu, it is not just limited to its past. This beloved breed has managed to make a lasting impact and has become a recognizable icon in contemporary times. From art and literature to movies and pop culture, the Shih Tzu has become ubiquitous in modern China and beyond. Let’s explore some of the influential ways in which the Shih Tzu has become an important and beloved part of society, both in its native country and across the world.

Shih Tzu in Art and Literature

Throughout history, Shih Tzu’s have been a popular subject in Chinese art and literature. They are often depicted in paintings, sculptures, and even embroidered on silk fabrics. In literature, they are commonly referenced in poems and stories as symbols of loyalty, love, and companionship.

Some notable pieces of Shih Tzu art include:

  • The Eight Shih Tzu Immortals: An ancient painting that portrays Shih Tzu’s as heavenly beings, each with a unique power.
  • The Sleeping Palace Dogs: Another famous painting that features Shih Tzu’s curled up and sleeping inside the palace walls.
  • The Imperial Court’s Nine Dogs: A sculpture that depicts Shih Tzu’s alongside other royal breeds like the Pekingese and the Chow Chow.

Shih Tzu’s also play a significant role in Chinese literature. One of the most famous works of Chinese literature, “Dream of the Red Chamber,” features a Shih Tzu named Baoyu as one of the main characters. Baoyu’s love and loyalty for his owner and best friend, Daiyu, is a central theme throughout the novel.

Other literary works featuring Shih Tzu’s include:

  • “The West Chamber” by Wang Shifu: this play highlights the bond between a scholar and his Shih Tzu.
  • “The Story of Miss Li” by Yuan Mei: this poem tells the story of a young woman who must leave her beloved Shih Tzu behind when she marries.
  • “The Story of Xiangzi” by Lao She: this novel includes a character who is a Shih Tzu breeder, highlighting the breed’s popularity in China during the early 20th century.

Shih Tzu’s are not only beloved household pets, but they also hold an important place in Chinese art and literature. Their depiction in various forms of media throughout history is a testament to their cultural significance and enduring popularity.

Shih Tzu in Movies and Pop Culture

The adorable and affectionate Shih Tzu has also made a significant impact on movies and pop culture. These charming dogs have been featured in several films and TV shows worldwide, gaining a massive fan following.

Movies such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Eight Below have showcased the breed’s playful and endearing nature. As a result, many people have developed an emotional connection with the breed, leading to an increase in their adoption rate.

The Shih Tzu’s popularity in pop culture has also led to their appearance in popular TV shows. In Japan, the animated series Shih Tzu to Matsumoto-san has become a hit among children and adults alike. The show follows the daily lives of a Shih Tzu and his owner, highlighting the breed’s loyalty and intelligence.

The fashion industry has also been influenced by this breed. In recent years, the Shih Tzu has become a beloved muse for many fashion designers, featuring in numerous high-fashion campaigns. Their adorable features and luxurious coats have inspired many designers to create clothing and accessories that emulate the breed’s regal appearance.

Table: Shih Tzu in Movies and Pop Culture

| Movie/TV Show | Description |
| — | — |
| Beverly Hills Chihuahua | The Shih Tzu is featured as one of the main characters in this movie, showcasing their playful nature. |
| Eight Below | In this movie, a team of sled dogs includes a Shih Tzu who shows the group how to survive against all odds. |
| Shih Tzu to Matsumoto-san | A Japanese animated series that follows the daily lives of a Shih Tzu and his owner. |
| High-fashion campaigns | The breed’s luxurious coat and royal appearance have become an inspiration for many fashion designers. |

The Shih Tzu’s widespread popularity and charming personality have earned it a spot in movies and pop culture. From being featured in films to inspiring fashion designers, the breed’s influence is far-reaching and continues to capture the hearts of many.

The Importance of Preserving Shih Tzu’s Cultural Heritage

The Shih Tzu is more than just a beloved companion animal; it is a living piece of China’s rich cultural heritage. To preserve the unique characteristics and significance of this breed, it is essential to continue efforts aimed at conserving its cultural heritage. In this section, we will explore the various conservation programs in China and globally, as well as the reasons why it is vital to maintain the Shih Tzu’s cultural heritage.

Conservation Efforts in China

In recent years, China has made significant progress in conservation efforts to preserve the country’s cultural heritage, including its beloved Shih Tzu breed. The government has implemented laws and regulations to protect the rights and welfare of animals, and there are several organizations dedicated to caring for and promoting the breed.

One such organization is the China Kennel Union, which was established in 1988 and is responsible for managing and regulating all dog breeds in the country. They work closely with local clubs and breeders to ensure the proper breeding and care of Shih Tzu dogs.

Another important effort has been the establishment of the China Rare Canine Breeds Conservation Program, which aims to protect and preserve rare dog breeds, including the Shih Tzu. The program focuses on breeding, training, and showing rare breeds, as well as promoting public awareness of their importance to Chinese culture.

Additionally, the China Small Animal Protection Association is a non-governmental organization that works to protect and care for small animals, including Shih Tzu dogs. They provide education and training to pet owners, as well as rescue and rehabilitation services for abandoned or mistreated animals.

These conservation efforts are crucial for preserving the unique and cherished cultural heritage associated with the Shih Tzu breed in China. Through the dedication and hard work of these organizations and individuals, the future of this beloved breed looks bright.

International Shih Tzu Clubs and Organizations

Shih Tzu enthusiasts around the world have formed various clubs and organizations aimed at preserving the breed’s rich cultural heritage. These groups work tirelessly to promote awareness of the breed and their significance in Chinese culture. Some of the most noteworthy International Shih Tzu clubs and organizations include:

Club/Organization NameMission StatementLocation
The American Shih Tzu ClubThe American Shih Tzu Club’s mission is to promote the welfare of the breed and to educate the public on responsible ownership and breeding.USA
The Shih Tzu ClubThe Shih Tzu Club is the premier club in the UK, devoted to the promotion, welfare, and improvement of Shih Tzu breed.UK
European Shih Tzu ClubThe European Shih Tzu Club is an organization for promoting the welfare and responsible ownership of Shih Tzus in Europe.Europe
Canadian Shih Tzu ClubThe Canadian Shih Tzu Club is dedicated to ensuring the betterment of the breed by promoting responsible ownership and breeding.Canada
The International Shih Tzu ClubThe International Shih Tzu Club aims to bring together Shih Tzu enthusiasts from around the globe to share their knowledge and love for the breed.Global

These organizations provide a platform for Shih Tzu lovers to connect, share insights and experiences, and take action to ensure the breed’s preservation. They also organize various events, such as dog shows and exhibitions, to showcase the beauty and elegance of the breed. Through their efforts, the cultural heritage of Shih Tzu is being preserved and celebrated worldwide.


In conclusion, the Shih Tzu dog breed holds a special place in the history and culture of China. From their origin as palace dogs to their status as symbols of prosperity and guardians of homes, Shih Tzus have played an important role in Chinese society for centuries. This rich history has led to their continued importance in modern China and beyond, with the breed being celebrated in art, literature, and pop culture.

However, it is important to remember that with the continued popularity of the breed comes the responsibility to preserve their cultural heritage. Efforts to protect the Shih Tzu’s history and genetics are underway in China, and international organizations are also working to ensure the health and well-being of the breed. It is essential to prioritize ethical breeding practices and embrace the Shih Tzu’s cultural significance in order to ensure their continued relevance and importance in the years to come.

Overall, the Shih Tzu’s journey from palace dogs to beloved family pets and cultural icons is a testament to the enduring power of dogs and their important place in human history. Let us not forget the significance of this beloved breed and work to honor their heritage while also celebrating their bright future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Shih Tzu breed’s origin?

Shih Tzu originated in China, specifically in the Tibetan Plateau.

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

The name “Shih Tzu” is Mandarin for “lion dog.”

What is the significance of Shih Tzu in Chinese culture?

Shih Tzu is a symbol of royalty, prosperity, and good fortune in Chinese culture.

What are some notable historical figures who owned Shih Tzu?

Empress Dowager Cixi, the last empress of China, was known for her love of Shih Tzu. Additionally, Queen Elizabeth II and her mother have owned Shih Tzu.

What is the Shih Tzu’s temperament?

Shih Tzu is known for being friendly, affectionate, and sometimes stubborn.

How do I properly care for a Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzu requires grooming and regular exercise. It’s also recommended to provide a balanced diet and routine veterinary care.

Can Shih Tzu breed with other breeds?

Yes, Shih Tzu can breed with other small breed dogs like poodles and bichon frises to create designer breeds like Shih-poo or Zuchon.

What is the average lifespan of a Shih Tzu?

The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is 10-16 years.

Are there any health issues associated with Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzu may be prone to certain health issues such as respiratory problems, eye problems, and allergies.

Can Shih Tzu be trained?

Yes, with proper training and patience, Shih Tzu can learn basic obedience and even some impressive tricks.


Britta Thygesen

Britta Thygesen

A passionate dog owner and a full-time certified dog trainer. Aspires to make DogCareHacks a go-to place for all the doggo info. Shares personal experience and professional knowledge.

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