Definitions and understanding

by Sandra LindbergSeptember 20, 2022

The Western Shar Pei world is often about emotions. Especially with breeders, many topics are very emotional, where objectivity would make much more sense. Your own dogs are usually considered to be the best dogs. If a judge criticizes individual aspects at a show, or even worse, another breeder, we immediately go into a defensive mode based on emotions.

I live in two different Shar Pei worlds, one in the West and the other in China. I am grateful for both of them, because I have learned a lot from both of them so far. Especially in relation to objectivity and my own handling of emotions. Because I experience both worlds every day.

Discussions often revolve around definitions. We discuss meatmouth and bonemouth, traditional and modern, horsecoat and brushcoat. Since there is no clear, accessible and easily understandable definition for any of these terms, many see their own as the “correct” one. The results are misunderstandings, in fact exactly what a good definition should prevent.

A definition is a brief linguistic representation of a fact. They are important so that different people can communicate with each other without misunderstandings. A good definition is simple and as clear as possible in order to be able to distinguish it from other or similar terms. Definitions help us to learn and understand new things, because a good definition helps us to delimit terms or facts. Understanding is the comprehension of the content of a definition.

Understanding, which I am concerned with in this article, goes beyond the term „to understand“ and describes an inner relationship to something. To empathize with something. An empathy for situations, history, culture and values.


„The West always likes to seek certainty, the Chinese are not like that.“

A phrase that made me understand a lot and always gives me some peace when confronted with Shar Pei related misunderstandings, which are often based on a lack of definitions. But without clearly understandable definitions, there are only opinions and interpretations of these.

When I started researching the Shar Pei in China and with the old Chinese breeders, I must have gotten on the nerves of some people at first, because at the time I was primarily motivated to get clear answers to all these definition questions. Because that was something I faced every day in the European world.

Matgo Law told me many years ago that at the very beginning he consciously avoided translating ancient Chinese breed descriptions so that there would be no misunderstandings. Because even if you can translate words, translating an understanding is difficult if not impossible. At the time I was motivated to try anyway. Today I can only agree with him.

Nevertheless, attempts can be found on various websites to translate partly correct, partly incorrect Chinese descriptions and in many cases to depict them with photos. With our Western understanding and desire for definitions, we often take such descriptions as unequivocal truth. Why have I not yet published such a translation attempt on my website? Because they're just translations of words. The underlying understanding of the Shar Pei cannot be translated. And without this understanding, it inevitably leads to misunderstandings.

I'm lucky enough to understand both worlds, culturally and the languages. I grew up in the local Central European world, I grew into the Chinese world. Much of what I experienced and learned in the Chinese Shar Pei world cannot be translated with words in the western world. However, I am often asked about one or the other topic by interested people here in the West and then I am often faced with the definition dilemma or the problem of translating an understanding of something from one language into another.


“The Shar Pei is more than just a dog, it's a piece of culture.“

This sentence not only sounds nice, it has always been a help to me to understand the breed. It helped me to think outside the box of definitions. It has taught me over time to see the Shar Pei for what it represents in China. An emotion based on culture, history and pride. An emotion that many Chinese friends have been able to convey to me over time.

In the west I often see people in discussions about the Shar Pei. It is not uncommon for a wide variety of personal definitions of phenotypic characteristics to be involved. The word I'm personally most reluctant to use is "traditional". Like many other words in the Shar Pei world, this one has no definition. So everyone can call their Shar-Pei traditional and they are actually right, because the Shar-Pei has a long tradition. The term traditional is often used in an evaluative manner and understood as an appreciation. At the same time, the contrast is devalued. Another aspect that is very unpleasant for many. Especially since according to the FCI there is only one Shar Pei without distinction. All we have are genetically slightly different populations. And none of them is better or worse than the other.

Also with the descriptions of Meatmouth and Bonemouth there are almost as many personal opinions as there are people. Even with these terms, some people are concerned with upgrading or devaluing and not with the Shar Pei per se or with a genuine understanding of him. It is considered or construed as an evaluation. That's the emotional side, which is often involved, although objectivity would be more groundbreaking.

In our individual thinking, we have therefore given the terms a personal evaluation. Often to reflect our own preferences, which usually reflect our own dogs. Unfortunately, what is often forgotten in discussions is that not everyone shares our personal assessment.

Depending on the individual rating filter, the term moderate Meatmouth Shar Pei can be seen as a factual description, or as an insult if you have associated the term Meatmouth as negative for yourself. And since there are no clear definitions, many people have formed their own definitions and, often linked to them, ratings.

I'm always surprised how differently we act in China in identical discussions. We are happy to discuss individual dogs, talk about their advantages and disadvantages, without the owner feeling offended. If my dog Tiangang is called a meaty Bonemouth there, then without a rating. It's a purely factual observation.

From time to time I also show pictures of modern western Shar Pei that I really like or have questions about. So far I have never experienced that such a discussion had a pejorative undertone. Because even if you like your own original population better because it has deep personal, cultural and historical meaning, the other population is neither better nor worse. It's just different.

This factual discussion of individual dogs without emotional evaluation is one of the most important things I've learned and I'm very grateful for it. And it was only when I stopped seeing everything in the vague or self-determined definitions that we happen to have that I was able to develop a real understanding of the meaning of the breed among Shar Pei enthusiasts in China. I can understand the pride my Chinese friends have for their original Dali Shar Pei. And now I feel a similar pride. Not only do I have real original Dali Shar Pei, but above all they have been entrusted to me. I feel honored to cultivate a small piece of Chinese culture that I have grown very fond of and, ideally, to bring a few people closer to it in such a way that they can develop a similar feeling.

And whoever sits there now and thinks "Look, I knew it, she thinks her dogs are better than everyone elses" should maybe read the whole article again in peace and quiet.