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Royal dogs in the ancient Forbidden City of China

The opulent life of royal dogs in the ancient Forbidden City of China

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From specially-tailored dog outfits to slave eunuchs to serve their every need, the royal dogs of China’s Forbidden City had it all. Now researchers have revealed the opulent life of these royal canines in a new exhibition in China’s Palace Museum, which showcases the “Beautiful, Wild and Weird” from the ancient imperial palace.

The Forbidden City was once home to the emperors of China during the final two imperial dynasties, the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty. Built in 1406 to 1420 AD, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers an incredible 720,000 m2.  As its name suggests, the complex was off-limits to the public and could only be accessed by the emperor, his immediate family, and thousands of concubines and castrated male servants known as eunuchs. The palace was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as having the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

The emperors and empresses of China’s Forbidden City lived a lavish lifestyle, but they weren’t the only ones. According to Chen Shen, a curator at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, royal canines received royal treatment.  "They reportedly lived in pavilions with marble floors, sleeping on silk cushions, tended by specialized eunuchs who worked for the Dog Raising Office," wrote Shen and Wen-Chien Cheng in their book "The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China's Emperors".

The eunuchs were trained to care for the royal dogs and waited on their every need, while the royal women entertained themselves by dressing up their dogs in luxurious outfits that were specially commissioned and tailored to each dog’s size and breed. The pet’s name was carefully recorded on the lining.

Dog outfit which was worn by a canine named "Big Luck"

Researchers have recently published this dog outfit which was worn by a canine named "Big Luck" who lived in China's Forbidden City. Photo credit: Owen Jarus

One of the outfits, which has just gone on display for the first time in the museum exhibition, is a hand-made silk garment worn by a dog named “Big Luck” (in translation). The pink outfit decorated with images of peonies (a flowering plant) would have covered Big Luck from snout to tail and his name was inscribed on the lining.

Unfortunately for the dogs, the days of living the high life came to an end when the Qing Dynasty fell into decline.  In 1900, after the Boxer Rebellion was crushed, a foreign army occupied Beijing and looted the Forbidden City. In 1911 the last emperor of China, a child named Puyi, fled the Forbidden City and was forced to give up the throne, bringing an end to the royal family and their canine companions.

Featured image: Stock image of a dog living a luxurious life. Photo source.

By April Holloway



I once heard they slaughtered royal dogs so that they wouldn't fall into none imperial hands when the dynasty fell.

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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