This article examines the potency and persistence of myth and language in the context of the dispute, now over 80 years old, about the officially-sanctioned wording of regulations in the municipal parks of foreign-administered Shanghai. Specifically, it examines the potent symbol of the sign placed in Shanghai's Huangpu Park that allegedly read: “Chinese and Dogs Not Admitted.” This symbol has secured a totemic position in the historiography of the Western presence in China before 1949 and is deeply embedded in contemporary Chinese and Western perceptions and representations of that era, and of the whole question of Western imperialism in China. It is the subject both of popular discourse and official fiat in China today. Drawing on a series of revisionist writings and new archival research this article shows that the true facts of the case are both beyond dispute and irrelevant, but that the legend survives undiminished.
For over 60 years before June 1928 most Chinese certainly were barred from the parks administered by the foreign-controlled Shanghai Municipal Council (SMC) of the International Settlement in Shanghai. As shown below, the enforcement of the ban varied over time but for the first three decades of the 20th century it was rigidly administered. Dogs, ball games, cycling and picking of the flowers were also forbidden, but the alleged juxtaposition of the bans on dogs and Chinese became notorious. The potency of “dog” as an insulting and dehumanizing epithet in China undoubtedly exacerbated the insult, and also made the story of the sign's outrageous wording seem all the more plausible.