Last week in the gym, I came across a woman with a tatoo “狗” on her arm. “狗(gǒu)” means dog in Chinese. The sign immediately put a smile on my face, as it seemed so hilarious to a Chinese mind to have it as a tattoo. I suppose this lady loves her dog, or dogs in general so much that she has to engrave it on her body.
Traditional view of dogs
Speaking of dogs, many of you might already associate to the image of dogs on a Chinese menu. Clearly, westerners and Chinese have very distinctive feelings about dogs. In general, dogs are loved and are seen as human’s friends in Western countries. Whereas traditionally for Chinese, the feeling for 狗 is mixed. In fact, it’s more negative than positive. Or at best dogs are seen as normal domestic animals just like other domestic animals such as chickens, cows, or sheep. Instead of focusing on the loving and adoring side of a dog, the Chinese tend to feel more of the sneaking and fierce characters of dogs. They are used as gatekeepers.
The negative image of dogs are portrayed vividly in the Chinese idioms & sayings. There are many idioms that use dogs to express negative meanings. For example:
狼心狗肺 láng xīn gǒu fèi : wolf’s heart and dog’s lung
Meaning: someone who is ungrateful
狐朋狗友 hú péng gǒu yǒu : fox and dog alike friends
Meaning: befriend the wrong type of people
猪狗不如 zhū gǒu bú rú : as low as pigs and dogs
Meaning: someone who is mean and do mean things
狗嘴里吐不出象牙 gǒu zuǐ lǐ tǔ bú chū xiàng yá: dog’s mouth can’t give elephant ivory
Meaning: you can’t expect good things from a bad person
For more idioms about animals and their meanings, you can see my precious article on 30 Chinese Idioms to do with animals.
Many cursing words also contains 狗. For example, we call someone who are not honest or trustworthy “小狗 xiǎo gǒu”, literally small dogs. Or “狗东西 gǒu dōng xi” literally means dog-alike things. Or we say someone is just a “阿猫阿狗” ā māo ā gǒu , which is to say a random or not important person, just like any cat or dog. Therefore, it’s quite clear that dogs don’t enjoy a loving and comforting image as many westerns would feel.
Dogs in modern days
In modern days, Chinese adopt a mixed feeling for dogs. Partly under the western influences, many see dogs as loyal companions, which are as important as family members. There is a trend in Chinese, particularly among the young generation, to have dogs as pets. They pay increasing attention to dogs dresses and decorations, which are humanized.
Another trend in China is to have rare species of dogs. For many, to have certain type of dog has become a symbol for status. A few preferred dog types are Pekingese (also called lion dog), Bichon Frisé，Papillon, Pomeranian and Tibetan Mastiff. Especially the Tibetan mastiff, one of the most fierce dogs, has an increasing market and can be bought for tens of thousands dollars.
There is a news recently that during the golden week (1 Oct – 7 Oct, one week national holiday), a Chinese big family (10 people + 1 chihuahua dog) has traveled more than 2,000km to visit a tourist place 九寨沟 jiǔ zhài gōu, only to find out that dogs are not allowed to enter. They could leave the chihuahua at the ticket place, but they didn’t feel comfortable to leave the beloved dog behind. Eventually they decided not to enter.
What’s your thought about dogs? What are the other Chinese phrases or idioms that you know that are about dogs? Share below!