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Dogs have played a vital and varied role in the social history of early China. Whether used as a source of food, a hunting-aid, or a sacrificial victim, dogs were intimately connected with human life and death. The placement and significance of dismembered and slaughtered dogs in human tombs have been a source of scholarly interest across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, less attention has been paid to sources which present us with a spectrum of concerns surrounding the treatment of dogs after their death. Should they be consumed, discarded, or buried? Which dogs were deserving of burial, and how were such burials viewed by human commentators? By analysing textual, archaeological, and material sources, this article explores the changing conceptualisation of dogs in life and in death through the medium of the tomb, showing how the transition from tomb-keeper to tomb-occupant reflects an increasingly anthropomorphic view of canine potential and moral fibre by the early medieval period.
A relatively understudied manuscript in the Pelliot collection, Pelliot chinois 2598, features a drawing on its verso of three animals tentatively identified as yaks. However, I would like to re-identify these as being a particular kind of dog which appeared suddenly in the early Tang 唐 (618–907) dynasty. This case will be built on the visual correlations between this image and other descriptions and depictions of such dogs. The manuscript and drawing as a whole will also be explored to contextualize this depiction, which may in turn lead us to hypothesize about the existence, visually or physically, of these dogs and their associated tropes in Dunhuang 敦煌.
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