China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2006/Jan

The Year of the Dog

I am faithful; I am kind.
I am friendly, and keep an open mind.
I am fond of children and the elderly;
I seek myself quite sparingly.
I am glad when you are glad;
I am sad when you are sad.
I can be anxious and intense,
I can never stand pretence.
You will find me practical and you will find me whimsical.
I am the DOG!

The dog is the 11th symbolic animal of the 12-year Chinese Zodiac cycle. According to some historical Chinese calculations, this is the year 4703. Of all the animals in the animal kingdom, the dog is surely one of the most popular and best liked. The astrological world maintains that there are five types of dogs: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. 2006 is the Year of the Fire Dog!

The dog personality

The Fire Dog is rather special. This dog, whether male or female, is marked by a friendly personality. Attractive and self-assured, the Fire Dog exudes a rather magnetic charm. With their outgoing character, Fire Dog people overcome their difficulties with their creativity and their idealism. They are generally cooperative, relate well to children and the elderly. They are honest and clever. Their high sense of values makes them highly responsible and great family members. They generally succeed at whatever they undertake and they don’t let success go to their head. Dog people like life to be harmonious and smooth; this occasionally makes them tell little white lies. They have a great sense of justice and take the side of the little people.

Dog people, of course, are not perfect. They suffer from a few human flaws like the rest of humanity. Nothing serious, of course, but flaws nonetheless. Dog people can sometimes be stubborn. They can hang on to their ideas and refuse to compromise on issues that matter to them. They can also be temperamental. Sometimes, when they’re in their moody mood, it is better to ignore them. Don’t try to snap them out of it; just leave them alone. They’ll recuperate by themselves. Dog people also tend to be anxious about many things. Sometimes their worries are completely irrational. Most of them need to relax a bit more!

Dog types in early Chinese history

In China’s very ancient history, dogs were of three, not five, types: the barking dog, the field dog and the food dog. The barking dog, of course, was the guardian; the field dog was good for hunting and yes, you’ve guessed it, the food dog was found on the table, especially in winter. Since time immemorial, dogs have been a delicacy in some parts of China!

It was the general belief that dogs helped reduce fatigue. Consequently, it was a favourite dish for those students competing in the national and imperial examinations. Many emperors loved their hounds for hunting; except the Ming, who banned the dogs and transferred their affection to cats. Concubines cherished their lap dogs; shepherds needed an assistant in the field, and it often served as a favourite imperial gift for foreign dignitaries.

Who is a dog?

Since the Lunar Years differ from the Western calendar years, if you were born in January or February, you have to check your dates carefully, because you might be a rooster or a boar instead. In general, however, if you were born in 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, you are a Dog.

Famous dog people

Many famous actresses are dog girls. Among them are: Sophia Loren, Cher, Brigitte Bardot, Liza Minelli and Ava Gardner. There are also the public leader dogs like Zhou Enlai, Bill Clinton, and Winston Churchill, the athletic dogs like Andre Agassi, the famous Elvis Presley and imaginative, creative dogs like Stephen Spielberg, to name but a few!

Origin of dogs

No one seems to know for sure where dogs actually came from. Some think the dog is a descendant of the wolf, others claim the fox, others the coyote, and still others, all three. But it seems the dog had plenty of time to become domesticated since he seems to have been around for thousands of years. It is well documented that Stone Age people used dogs for hunting. Dogs feature in the mythology of all ancient civilisations. The Old Testament often mentions dogs.

Dogs in the Old Testament

Dogs in the Scriptures don’t get a very good press. A quick glance at the Old Testament reveals what the great prophet Isaiah thought of dogs, “Israel’s sentinels are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs that cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough” (Is. 56:10). Unfaithful rulers like Jeroboam, one of Israel’s kings, do not fare any better, “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city, the dogs shall eat” (1 Kings, 14:11). Psalm 22 describes enemies and evildoers as dogs, “For dogs are all around me, a company of evildoers encircles me” (Ps. 22:11).

Just about the worse thing anyone could call you, or be called, is a dog or a dead dog (1 Sam 17:43). “The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?’” “Why should this dead dog curse my Lord? Let me go over and take off his head” (2 Sam 16:9).

Being called a dog was an insult but calling oneself a dog was a mark of self-humiliation. In talking to Elisha, Hazael says, “What is your servant, who is a mere dog, that you should do such a great thing?” (2 Kings 8:13) and again, “Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A single flea? May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you” (1 Sam 24:14-15).

Dogs in the New Testament

Dogs in the New Testament do not fare much better. Even Jesus did not seem to have a kind word for dogs. In his encounter with the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her daughter, Jesus responds to her plea saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is a reference to non-Jews or Gentiles.

Her reply seemed to disarm Jesus, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith, Let it be done for you as you wish” (Mt 15: 26-28).

In the story of the poor man and the rich man, the poor man, Lazarus, sits at the rich man’s gate, longing to satisfy his hunger with the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. He is so pathetic that even the dogs come and lick his sore” (Lk. 16 21). Paul in his letter to the Philippians also refers to evildoers as dogs (3:2).

Attitude towards dogs

The Chinese attitude toward dogs was markedly different from that of other ancient peoples. Ideas in north China also differed from those in the south. Northerners often thought of dogs as protectors and put paper dogs in the tombs of the dead since dogs were noted for expelling evil spirits. The dog was also useful as a companion and to ward off evil and bring luck.

In south China where there are a number of minority groups, some thought that the dog had been responsible for the rice that human beings enjoyed. Tibetans actually held a similar myth except that for them the rice became millet.

In Guangdong people loved to listen to stories about faithful dogs. The dog was the guardian of his master’s goods. Many rich Chinese loved to hunt. Many emperors loved their hounds; they loved to give dogs as gifts to visiting dignitaries. Many poor people worked as shepherds. They needed a helper and the dog became that companion and between the two there developed a bond of friendship.

As dogs all over the world developed, bred and evolved into many different varieties, people in Europe began a “love affair” with the dog, one that has extended to the so-called New World where the dog became “man’s best friend”.

Today that love affair has sometimes taken on ridiculous aspects. Dogs have their own houses, their own soft bed and their own wardrobe of clothing. Some even have their added fur coat! They have their own plot in the cemetery with their own tombstone and epitaph.

Famous Dogs

Dogs have long been an integral part of world history and some have even won great renown. Do you remember Laika, the muttnik? Laika travelled in space on Sputnick 2, the Soviet satellite, in 1957. And if you were around in 1942, you certainly remember Lassie, the collie that became popular in the movie “Lassie Come Home” and then in a popular television series?

Then there was Rin Tin Tin, the beautiful and clever German shepherd, who made 19 very popular movies before he died in 1932. There was also that strange canine character called “le Diable” (the Devil) who was clever enough to fool customs agents many times by smuggling costly items across the French border.

The dogs of some United States presidents made history. There was Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel, Checkers, was an illegal gift, but his mention of the little dog in a pre-election speech certainly worked in his favour.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had Fala, the Scotch terrier, who accompanied the president everywhere. He was even present for the signing of the Atlantic Charter. He was not the only canine present, however, for this auspicious occasion, since Winston Churchill had also brought Rufus, his poodle.

The Last Supper

In “The Last Supper”, Leonardo Da Vinci painted one of Christian art’s most unforgettable scenes. Apparently Giovanni Pietro da Birago thought something was missing. In his engraving of that painting, he added a character in the foreground, a small dog. Could this have been an inspiration? After all, Jesus knew that the Gentiles would soon become his best friends.