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Gifts from Afar: The Creation of an Imperial Lapdog in Tang–Song China



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Granger, Kelsey 


This thesis directly addresses a significant gap in the fields of sinology and pet studies by exploring pre-modern Chinese pet-keeping practices in detail for the first time in either discipline. More specifically, this thesis centres on the social and economic practice of lapdog-keeping across the seventh to twelfth centuries, i.e. the Tang and Northern Song dynasties. Not only does this study provide an adapted framework for identifying pets in medieval China, but the formation of a definitive corpus of lapdog references from this timeframe closely defines what a lapdog was and what it did, moving beyond prior cursory research into these diminutive trick-dogs.

Analysis of how humans talked about, with, and through the lapdog further asserts the relevance of pets in the study of human history – revealing the lapdog to be a potent metonym for women and a medium for articulating male sexual desire. In sharing intimate human spaces and emotions as a living treasure, childhood playmate, and female companion, the lapdog thus uncovers nuanced insight into medieval elite culture. When considering the later trajectory of the lapdog in the Song period, we see an entire industry dedicated to producing and selling ornamental animals and animal accessories. Pets were not just emotional beings but economic products, shaped by the shifting socioeconomic dynamics of commercialisation and commodification.

The lapdog, China’s first systematic pet, was both a physical creature and an abstract site of complementary, contradicting, and competing meanings. With relevance to the study of medieval Chinese animal studies; early childhood; the male gaze; female isolation; animal commodification; aesthetic connoisseurship; and the writing of official historiography, this thesis reaffirms that the history of humanity cannot truly be written without including the animals which shared their most intimate lives.





Galambos, Imre


Animal studies, China, Dunhuang manuscripts, Material culture, Medieval China, Pet studies, Pet-keeping


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Trinity Hall Drayton Scholarship; Glorisun Global Network; Dhammachai International Research Institute; and the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation Doctoral Fellowship