PEKING — After purges that left Peking virtually without any dogs three years ago, the snub-nosed Pekingese and other breeds are coming back as the exclusive playthings of the capital's privileged present-day mandarins.
Peking's only private pet veterinary surgeon says that small dogs like the Pekingese, the Shih Tzu and the Chihuahua are the latest addition to the households of top scientists, politicians and generals.
"Only the privileged class can get the special pass which allows you to keep dogs," Duan Baofu said as a couple of anxious cat owners waited for him to treat their pets.
Keeping dogs as pets has been officially banned in China's crowded cities since the 1950s for health reasons. Rabies is endemic throughout much of the country.
But in the last couple of years, some exceptions have been granted. "There has been a big increase in pet dogs, many kept illegally," Duan said.
At roadside markets in the capital, some traders ostensibly selling pigeons and songbirds offer Pekingese and other dogs by arrangement.
"Selling dogs to people without a rearing pass is illegal, but many people keep dogs secretly in Peking," said one young dog dealer who was asking about $350 (U.S.) for any one of the six Pekingese he has hidden at his home.
The long-haired Pekingese caught the attention of the world in the 19th Century as the pampered companions of China's emperors and one empress dowager who, it is said, used to keep the dogs up the roomy sleeves of her "dragon gown."
Pet-keeping was attacked as bourgeois during the decade of Maoist radicalism through 1976.
In late 1983, dogs were butchered for meat or hounded out of Peking in an effort to combat rabies.
Police dogs and the occasional entry on a restaurant menu became the only evidence of the canine species in the capital.
Dog meat is popular in many parts of China, and the present market price for canine cutlets in Peking is about 50 cents a pound.