Reverend D. Allan Easton’s Theory Regarding the “Imperial” Shih Tzu

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Connie Limon brings us a unique perspective regarding the history of the Shih Tzu.

was a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and a Member of the American Oriental Society, the China Institute of America, and the Tibet Society of the United Kingdom, and the which unites public speakers and writers of the free world.

After he completed his studies in Glasgow and New York, Mr. Easton visited Peking in 1937. From that experience began his enthusiasm for the rare little Lion Dogs from the Manchu Palace.

Mr. Easton was one of the first Europeans to visit the hidden land of Tibet. He made the journey by mule and pony across a 15,000 foot mountain pass.

Mr. and Mrs. Easton’s first Shih Tzu was purchased in 1961 from the Pennsylvania fancier, Ingrid Colwell. They then imported dogs from England, Germany, and Holland and produced their own famous outstanding Chumulari line.

Reverend D. Allan Easton’s theory regarding the development of two different types of Shih Tzu in Old Peking was confirmed by a little-known essay written by the . Mr. Easton continually searched for first-hand information regarding the issue of different sizes in the Shih Tzu.

In this essay, Princess Der Ling describes the royal kennels. The essay was published in the United States in 1933. Princess Der Ling wrote about some fascinating information she received from the about her beloved Shih Tzu:

“Out of a litter of four,” Her Majesty told me, “there are seldom more than two which are worth keeping. The others, even though they have the same father and mother, have something the matter with them – too short legs, too long bodies, or the wrong markings. They are inferior.”

“Particular care must be taken with feeding,” explained Her Majesty. “A Harba Go (Manchu words for this species of dog) must not be given too much water while he is growing, or he will become too large, which makes him ugly………”

“Puppies were not killed,” wrote the Princess Der Ling. “The eunuchs usually took discarded puppies out into the city and sold them, receiving good prices because the animals were from the imperial kennels.”

The practice of discarding puppies, which the Empress Dowager had rejected as inferior in quality, out into the city, was no secret. It was an accepted practice and was done on a considerable scale.

The Empress Dowager was intensely fond of animals and even though she regarded these as poor specimens of the breed she was glad to see her puppies go to homes where they were valued. It is speculated that the Empress Dowager probably wished these would be treated as pets, and not used for breeding, but this was a matter over which she had no means of exercising effective control. It is very questionable how much she knew went on outside the palace walls, as the life of the court was completely cut off from that of the ordinary citizens of Peking.

It is also not known just how small the Imperial Palace Shih Tzu was. According to most of Mr. Easton’s writing and research they were at least 9 pounds, solid and compact. For all any of us know today, there definitely could have been even smaller specimens kept in the Palace, and quite possibly could account for the under 9 pound Shih Tzu we still see occurring today.

Mr. Easton also writes often that the practice of breeding Shih Tzu with Pekingese was very common in the Imperial Palace. As author of this article, I believe this is another factor that could account for our even smaller versions of Shih Tzu today, of which some refer to as “teacups.”

Many of the under 9 pound Shih Tzu I live with today are and they do not have liver shunt disease as the reason for their smaller size as so many of the advocates of the larger size Shih Tzu tell the consumer.

It could be medical fact that liver shunt disease is seen more often in the smaller sizes than the larger sizes, but it is not a condition specific to the small size Shih Tzu. Any breed of dog and/or any size of dog can have liver shunt disease. It is not true that the reason we have less than 9 pound Shih Tzu today is because they are just the runts of the litter, or they are sickly specimens of the breed, or they most definitely have and/or carry the liver shunt disease.

There are many of these little ones that live just as long and healthy lives as the larger versions. The size of any living creature does not dictate the of that creature. I personally like the little ones just as much as the 9 to 12 pound Shih Tzu. I do not like a very large Shih Tzu of 16 pounds or more. I still live with a few as my dear pets and companions, but as I continue with my breeding program, I search for the lower end of the AKC standard, which is anywhere from 9 to 12 pounds.

From all that I have read about Shih Tzu history, it was Shih Tzu weighing at least 9 pounds and not anymore than this that were the favored and treasured Shih Tzu of the Imperial Palace. I imagine there were a few weighing even less than 9 pounds just as we see them today who remained in the Imperial Palace. I can certainly see how people do want to call the smaller version “Imperial Shih Tzu.” However, as noted elsewhere in this article, The American Shih Tzu Club and the American Kennel Club are dead set against this term or any other term to describe a Shih Tzu.

As a result of the practice of Empress Dowager rejecting the larger Shih Tzu specimens and sending them out into the city for sale, it is easy to see how two different types of Shih Tzu developed in the Chinese capital by the time the breed became known to the outside world. On one hand, hidden in the palace and beloved at court were the exquisitely dainty and well-proportioned little jewels, bred with the strictest selectivity and carefully screened to conform to the imperial ideal. On the other hand, and much more accessible to the general public and bred by them with less discrimination were the coarser specimens, treasured by those who had long ago learned to be satisfied with something less than the best.

Mr. Easton felt that in all fairness to the general public, which do have rights in the matter, the two types of Shih Tzu should be clearly designated in a manner which is historically accurate and in no way misleading. He felt the larger size Shih Tzu should have been known as the “English Shih Tzu,” since it was in England where most of the larger sizes were bred. However, many English breeders during his time period preferred the smaller type. It just seemed obvious that since the smaller type Shih Tzu had been such a guarded secret of the Imperial Palace and the larger size Shih Tzu is what all others outside the Palace got hold of to breed, Mr. Easton felt like the larger size should just be known as “Shih Tzu,” and the smaller type should carry the prefix “Imperial” to mark their special association with the Peking Palace.

The Reverend D. Allan Easton obviously did not get his way about the official names to distinguish the small Shih Tzu from the large Shih Tzu. The American Kennel Club today recognizes only one name for the Shih Tzu, and that is Shih Tzu. They along with the American Shih Tzu Club do not want anyone referring to the smaller version Shih Tzu as “Imperial.”
Source: “This is the Shih Tzu,” written by Reverend D. Allan Easton and Joan McDonald Brearley

Author: Connie Limon, Breeder of pet and show prospect Shih Tzu in a variety of colors. Visit website at and sign up for our FREE newsletters. Our website provides a wealth of information. Puppies are sold with health guarantee and are bred from champion bloodlines. Also visit our Shih Tzu article collection at

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