New Year Special: A Look Back at China’s Purloined Pekingese

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5:52 PM HKT, Thu February 15, 2018 2 mins read

Bronze animal statues weren’t the only thing looted from the Old Summer Palace when it was put to the torch by British and French troops at the conclusion of the Arrow War in 1860; the imperial kennel was robbed as well.

A set of purloined Pekingese dogs were among the booty taken from the sacked gardens as part of the spoils of war. Soldiers discovered five little pooches cowering amidst the noise and the confusion and scooped them up before presenting them to their officers.

Let’s pause for a moment, on the eve of the Year of the Dog, to reflect on a group of soldiers not just looting priceless art and treasures, but also grabbing imperial puppies on the way out of town. That’s cold.

The five dogs were brought back to England, where they caused quite a sensation among upper-class canine enthusiasts.

Lord John Hay bestowed a pair, named Schloff and Hytien, to his sister, the Duchess of Wellington. Sir George Fitzroy gave another pair to his cousins, the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Gordon. But one of the puppies was destined for even fancier digs.

Captain John Hart Dunne, part of the squad that found the dogs, was high in his praise of the remaining pup, writing that it was “a most affectionate little creature… a pretty little dog, a real Chinese sleeve dog. It has silver bells round its neck. People say it is the most perfect little beauty they have ever seen.”

And so he gifted the fifth dog to none other than Queen Victoria.

According to an 1861 selection from the London Illustrated News curated by historian Gillian B. Bickley:

It is supposed to have belonged to the Empress of one of the ladies of the Imperial family. By what name it was known to its small-footed mistress* will in all probability remain a mystery. It has, however, appropriately enough, been renamed Looty. Her Majesty having been graciously pleased to accept Looty, it forms one of the Royal collection of dogs. Looty is considered by everyone who has seen it the smallest and by far the most beautiful little animal that has appeared in this country.

Looty? Seriously? Little wonder why the Chinese refer to this era as a “Century of Humiliation.”

Apparently, Looty had some trouble assimilating to the royal pack.

Harper’s Weekly via the New York Times Archive** picks up the story:

He was a very lonely little creature, the other dogs taking exception to his Oriental habits and appearance,*** and when the Prince and Princess of Wales returned from a Continental trip, the latter pleaded with her mother-in-law to be allowed to take Looty to Sandringham. About six months later Looty’s mate arrived from China, and the breeding of this species of dog became a diversion in fashionable society.

Looty finally settled in and enjoyed a brief moment of celebrity with portraits and photographs published of the Queen’s new pooch.

While Looty died in 1872, one wonders if a team of Beijing lawyers is even now planning to sue to have all Pekingese dogs repatriated to Beijing, because goodness knows there aren’t enough of the yippy ankle-nipping poop-dispensers here already.

Happy New Year!

* In a footnote, Bickley corrects the original writer, noting that Manchu ladies of the imperial court did not bind their feet.

** NYT, February 25, 1912, Sunday Section: Society College News Drama Fashion Music, Page X2, 387 words

*** Imperialism was a bitch…even the DOGS back then were racist. Kidding. Kind of.

Images from the Royal Collection Trust.

This article is based on a post originally published on my old site, Jottings from the Granite Studio, on March 26, 2009.

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