Written February 15, 2019
The Chinese Edible Dog
Dogs labeled as "The Chinese Edible Dog" were actually exhibited at dog shows in the U.K. and the U.S.
Eating dog meat is in the news for dog fanciers because of the controversy over the World Dog Show being located in China this year.
I first encountered mention of the Chinese Edible Dog while reading an 1879 New York Times newspaper article about a Curly Coated Retriever being exhibited at the New York dog show. Though not curly related, I wanted to write some of what I found out.
For some people in China, particularly the poorer folks, eating dog meat has been part of their culture for hundreds of centuries. The Chinese Edible Dog was a dietary mainstay in some areas of China since 500 BC, according to some sources.
Travel memoirs and guidebooks of the 1800s frequently mention dining on dog meat as an option. One travel journal mentions menus posted outside of restaurants in some areas would specifically list, as a special, the meat of the black edible dog. Meat from the black dog was purportedly more tender and tasty.
The first pair of Chinese Edible Dogs are believed to have been exported from Canton to the United Kingdom sometime in the 1780s. In his 1789 book, "Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne", the UK naturalist Gilbert White gives a description of the pair of edible dogs belonging to a neighbor. He describes them as about the size of a moderate spaniel, hair coarse and bristling, upright ears, and quite straight in the stifle. Tail is curled over the back when they move, and they have small, jet black eyes.
The Chinese Edible Dogs in China were commonly kept in sties (like a pigsty) and fed with rice meal and other starchy foods in raising them for meat.
The London Zoo, which used to display various breeds of dogs, had a pair of Chinese Edible Dogs on display in the 1840s.
BLACK Chinese Edible Dog, Illustrated London News, 1882
CHOW-CHOW OR CHINESE CRESTED?
Some folks believe Chinese Crested dogs were also used as table fare in China. It is probable there were many types of dogs used for dietary purposes. Many of the illustrations of the Chinese Edible dogs I have been able to find all point toward the dogs being early examples of the Chow breed but other Chinese Edible Dogs appear to have been Chinese Cresteds (read the description of the Chinese Edible exhibited at the 1878 Westminster Kennel Club below.)
If the Chow was indeed the original Chinese Edible Dog, that leads us to the question: are the name of the Chow breed and the word "chow", used to indicate food or a meal, related? Some say yes, some say no.
Some linguists believe chow is an American slang term for a Chinese dish, a sort of pickled relish. Dictionary.com describes chow as meaning "food."
The word chow is from about "1856, American English (originally in California), from Chinese pidgin English chow-chow (1795) "food," reduplication of Chinese cha or tsa "mixed." The dog breed of the same name is from 1886, of unknown origin, but some suggest a link to the Chinese tendency to see dogs as edible", according to the Dictionary.com website.
The Chow-chow dog breed may have obtained the name Chow in 1886 but the British and American fanciers who imported the dogs originally called them Chinese Edible Dogs. Here is a brief note from the 1832 American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine in a column about imported dogs: "To the Editor of the Turf Register from the Pacific by Mr. Slacum of the Navy--a pair of 'Chinese Edible Dogs'. The article indicated the pair of edible dogs would not be eaten until the breed had been established in the U.S. "though Purser Slacum, after feasting on them often, assures us they are very fine."
RED Chinese Edible Dog, London Illustrated News, 1882
The Chinese Edible Dog "Chinese Puzzle",
owned by Mr. W.K. Taunton.
Chinese Edible Dogs at the Dog Shows
By the late 1800s, Chinese Edible Dogs were exhibited at dog shows in England and the United States. A bitch imported from China, named Chinese Puzzle, was exhibited in the Foreign Dogs class at London's Crystal Palace dog show in 1880. Another Chinese Edible Dog was exhibited at the Westminster Kennel Club in 1878.
The dog exhibited at the Westminster show was described in the New York Times as weighing "about eight pounds, is built somewhat like an Italian greyhound but stouter, has no hair on its body except on top of its head between the ears, where is growing a large, stiff topknot of white hair."
Sounds like a Chinese Crested to me.
By 1882, there were several Chinese Edible Dogs being exhibited in UK dog shows. The breed name had been changed to "Chinese Chow-chow."
The following passage about the Chinese Chow-chow exhibits is from the Illustrated London News.
CHINESE EDIBLE DOGS
At the Crystal Palace Dog Show of the Kennel Club, which was noticed last week, there was a class of "Chinese Chow-chow," in which four male dogs and five females were entered. Two of the females, Papoose and Peridot, owned by Lady M. Gore, were offered at 500 pounds each. The two males represented in our illustrations are a black and a red animal, named respectively Chow III and Chow IV.; the former, owned by Mr. C. F. M. Cleverly, is two-and-a-half years old; the latter was born in 1877 and belongs to Mrs. F. Porter. These won the first and second prize in their class. We have no precise information regarding the rule by which Chinese gastronomy is directed in selecting human food certain varieties of dog, and rejecting others; but it is supposed that many of the lower class of people in China will readily eat any flesh of that kind. The name of "chow-chow" seems fearfully significant, but it really has a different meaning. Stews and broths are the chief culinary preparations for which any savoury flesh may be used, with plenty of rice. The gelatinous parts of fish, such as the fins of sharks and the maws of other species of fish, are in much request to thicken and flavour the Chinaman's soup; but a still greater dainty is the beche-de-mer, procured from Terres Strait, and the most highly esteemed of all is the nest of the sea swallow, which is composed of a mucilagenous sea-weed found on the coasts of Java and the Malay archipelego. The Chinese epicure has a refined though peculiar taste; and some of his dishes, though none of dog-flesh, can now be tasted at the International Health Exhibition.