Statuettes from the Han Dynasty date the breed
back to 206BC-220AD when they are believed to have originated in Dah Let near
the South China Sea. The Shar-Pei, unlike the Pug & Pekinese, was a working
dog and visitors to Southern China may still see them fulfilling their ancient
tasks of hunting and herding. In addition to their normal work some of the
breed were also raised and trained for fighting. It was the latter function
that seems to have given rise to the breed’s main characteristics. The
short coat and loose skin made it difficult for an opponent to get a grip
and enabled the dog to twist, turn and fight back. It's hooked canine teeth
gave it a firm grip and the small tight set ears gave an adversary little
to get hold of.
The opening of borders in the last century saw the introduction of larger and fiercer breeds, such as the Mastiff and the Bulldog, which were interbred with local dogs. The Shar-Pei was no match for these crossbreeds and as a result returned to its favoured position, in front of its owner’s fire.
No longer in demand, the breed went into a rapid decline and was nearly lost forever following the introduction of extortionate taxes on all dogs in Mainland China. In 1947 the tax was further increased and all breeding was banned. By 1950 few specimens remained and these were only to be found on offshore Islands such as Macao and Hong Kong. In 1973 Matgo Law, a Hong Kong breeder, appealed through American magazines for help in avoiding the breed’s extinction. From this small start came a great revival in this unique breed. In 1978 the Shar-Pei appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s rarest dog breed, but following successful breeding in the USA the first dog arrived in the UK in 1981. It was another year before the first bitches arrived, one of which came direct from Matgo Law in Hong Kong.
Within four years some 350 animals were registered with The Kennel Club and the figure has increased steadily each year since. From the UK Shar-Pei have been exported to Countries such as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Cyprus and Russia. Many of the animals imported into this country in recant years are USA Show Champions and have been very influential in the development of the breed here. As a result The Kennel Club granted the Shar-Pei Challenge Certificate status in 1999 and we have subsequently seen a number of UK champions made up.