The Dog (狗) is the eleventh of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Dog is associated with the Earthly Branch (地支) symbol  (戌). 16 February 2018 is the Lunar New Year Day of Year Wù Xū (戊戌年).


天干 (the Ten Heavenly Stems) :


地支 (the Twelve Earthly Branches) :


 十二生肖:虎免龍蛇馬羊猴雞(12-year cycle in the Chinese zodiac)

Rat ox tiger rabbit dragon snake horse goat monkey rooster dog pig


Recent years of the Dog in the Chinese Lunar Calendar are 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018.

Chinese Zodiac years are based on the Chinese lunar calendar, starting at Chinese New Year (16 February in 2018). People born in January or February can check the date of the Chinese New Year to confirm their birth sign, for example at the following



Characteristics of Dogs

Dogs are loyal, honest, reliable, courageous and hardworking. They are amiable, kind and prudent. Dogs also show great leadership.


Dogs in Ancient Chinese History

It is believed that the dog is the first species to be domesticated. Bone remains of dogs have been discovered in human burial sites of the Neolithic Period (around 8500 BC to 2500 BC). Early humans started to make hunting tools and they used the dog’ robust sense of smell to help them hunt. In return humans gave dogs protection and food consistently. The cohabitation of dogs and humans would have greatly improved the chances of survival.

Domesticated dogs were mainly divided into four types, watchdogs, hunting dogs, dog for diet and toy dogs favoured as pets by the aristocracy and rich people. Dogs have been human’s best friends for a very long time. To the western people eating dog is cruel and totally unacceptable. For ancient people and people in poor places today, raising dogs for diet is easier than raising bigger animals like pigs and cows. However later in Chinese history, dog was taken away from the dinner table possibly because of the fear of catching rabies diseases.

A lot of burial sites in China have been unearthed during the past 60 years. Some dated back to Neolithic Period (around 8500 BC to 2000 BC). They were quite primitive. Bones of dogs have always been found in burial sites. Nanyang (南陽) a historical city in central China’ Henan Province (河南省) is famous for its wealth of relics dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD). Of the large number of figurines unearthed in burial sites, pottery dogs are among the most popular. People at that time believed that there was an afterlife after the death of the physical body. Rich people and the aristocracy have elaborated and solemn funeral ceremonies. According to literature, savoury cooked dog dishes were offered to the deceased.

People at that time believed that dogs were able to protect them from evil and help them enjoy a peaceful afterlife. The dog was also one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. This is another reason for its popularity as a tomb figurine. Pottery dogs were always found buried alongside their owners.

Different postures of pottery dogs have been unearthed together with other pottery items of everyday utensils. Some pottery dogs are standing up at alert, with their heads raised, pricked up ears as hunting dogs. Some have their mouths half-opened and two protruding eyes as if they are barking and guarding the property as watchdogs. The watchdogs were often placed near the tomb entrance. Some are squatting and some are reclining as if taking a break.

The pottery dogs figurines vary in size and shape with the largest standing 60 cm and the smallest 5 cm tall. The pottery dog figurines were mostly made of grey clay and occasionally red clay. With the development of glazing in the middle and late Han Dynasty, the earthenware figurines were covered with a low-fired, lead-fluxed coating, with copper added as a colouring before it was fired in a kiln. Copper green and iron-derived yellow and reddish brown make up the palette of the Han glazed pottery dogs.

Neolithic dog-shaped pottery gui, Dawenkou Culture (大汶口文化), Shandong (山东) (Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, from Professor Gary Lee Todd)


Painted Gray Pottery Figure of a Dog, Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) standing four square, painted with geometric swirls. Height 12 in., Length 15 in. (Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from LiveAuctioneers)


Terracotta figure of a hunting dog. Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) (Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from


Sculpture of a Dog, Eastern Han dynasty (25 AD -220 AD), Tomb sculpture, Moulded earthenware with carved decoration, 45.7 x 25.4 x 38.1 cm  (Photo credits:


A green-glazed pottery figure of a dog of Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).
(Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from Live Auctioneers)


A green-glazed pottery figure of a dog, Eastern Han dynasty (25 AD -220 AD)
A recumbent dog with its head tilted upwards, the mouth agape exposing the tongue and fangs.
(Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from


A straw-glazed pottery figure of a dog, Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). A dog standing foursquare, its head tilted up with ears pricked, the mouth agape exposing the tongue and fangs, wearing a harness with stamped decorations.  (Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from



The gray-green clay dog standing four-square with ears erect and curled tail, wearing a harness, some original red-brown slip remaining, with flecks of remaining white slip (Photo credits: Pinteresr,  saved from


Green Glazed Pottery Model of a Barking Dog, Han Dynasty. (Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from

A large grey pottery figure of  a male guard dog of Han Dynasty (206 BC-  220AD) ( Photo credits: Pinterest, saved from


Dogs in Chinese Paintings

Zhou Fang (周昉)(c730 – c800, Tang Dynasty, 唐朝) Court Ladies Adorning Their Hairs with Flowers (簪花仕女圖), ink and colours on silk,  portion of the scroll,  46 x 180 cm, Liaoning Museum (遼寧省博物館)
Details of the dog






Lǐ dí (李迪)(active 1162 – 1224, Northern Song period, 北宋) Dog


Liu Songnian (劉松年)(born 1174), Mending the quilted coat (補衲圖) , 141.9 x 59.8 cm, National Palace Museum , Taipei (台北故宫博物院)
Details of the dog



Anonymous, attributed to Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), Butterfly, Dog and Okra flower (秋葵犬蝶), ink and colour on silk
Details of the dog



Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基)( Emperor Xuānzōng (宣宗)(1398-1435)One Smile (一笑图), ink and colour on paper, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Details of the dog





Giuseppe Castiglione (郎世寧) (1688 – 1766), Ten Prized Dogs 
Details of the dog

More dog paintings of Giuseppe Castiglione 


Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien)(張大千)(1899 – 1983), Girl of Tibetan Empire and Molosser dog (蕃女掣龐圖), ink and colour on paper.
Details of the dog
Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien) (張大千)(1899 – 1983), Two Girls of Tibetan Empire and Two Molosser Dogs (蕃女掣龐圖), ink and colour on paper
Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien) (張大千)(1899 – 1983), Molosser Dog (獒犬), ink and colour on paper


Liú Kuílíng (劉奎齡) (1885 – 1967) , Two Dogs under the Banana Tree (蕉陽), ink and colour on paper



I would like to thank Professor P. Lam for his kind guidance and advice for writing the webpages.

Bibliography :

Bjaaland Welch, Patricia (2008) Chinese Art- A guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery Tuttle Publishing ISBN: 978-08048-3864-1

户辅圣 (2003) 中国画历代名家技法图典 花鸟编 () 上海书画出版社

中国剪纸 Paper Cut in China 十二生肖 The twelve symbol animals 漢坤東方出品