The Shih-tzu Story

Shih-tzus! Everybody loves them (I think)! They’re so cute and adorable, and the best part? Unlike Jack Russells, shih-tzus won’t try to hump you! (Well, ok… I’ve never seen a shih-tzu violate someone before, so… Probably, yeah?)

Anyway, here’s a cute picture of The Girlfriend’s shih-tzu!

img_4036Cute right? I love its smile!

So, what’s this shih-tzu story about?

Well, do you know how these shih-tzus got this interesting name?

Well, as it turns out, “shih-tzu” is a transliteration from a Chinese word. You see, back in the days before hanyu pinyin (the modern romanisation system), there was another romanisation system widely used throughout the world, known as the Wade-Giles system. It’s still used in Taiwan, because they consider hanyu pinyin a communist invention from China. That’s why Taiwanese names aren’t spelled the same way as the hanyu pinyin that we’re familiar with, here in Singapore. E.g. names like Tsai (pinyin: Zai), Hsu (pinyin: Xu).

So anyway, if you convert “shih-tzu” to its hanyu pinyin equivalent, you’ll get: “shizi“, which translates to – surprise surprise! – LION (獅子 shizi)!!!

LION?! Why lion? It doesn’t look anything like the lions in the zoo! So why such a name?

Ooo… It gets more interesting! You see, these dogs were given the name, shih-tzu, because of these statues:

2012-07-14-15-32-44Haha… Ok, this statue doesn’t look like the dog either. But there are statues that do look like the dog. I’ve seen them so many times, but I just don’t remember where they are (I hate it when that happens! So annoying!). So we’ll just have to settle with this photo (or you could google for such pictures, you’ll begin to see statues of lions that kinda look like the shih-tzu dog).

China doesn’t have lions. But the Chinese probably had seen lions because of trading with the Middle East via the Silk Road. Anyway, lions and a few other animals, like giraffes, were thought to be celestial creatures with magical powers. And so a bunch of guys decided to carve statues of lions as some kind of celestial guard dogs – I mean lions! – to guard palaces, houses, and temples. Perhaps the first stone statue of a lion did look like a real lion. Or perhaps it was fashion (like modern abstract art) to make the lion look less lion-y. But whatever it is, over time, these statues started to look cuter and cuter. Maybe it’s like playing the game, Broken Telephone – as the message/image gets passed on from person to person, it changes until it doesn’t look anything like the original message/image.

Eventually, some guys spotted dogs in China that looked like these statues and voila! These dogs were thus called shizi (獅子 lion)!

The name got transliterated into English, as shih-tzu. However, since few people back then and today actually know how to pronounce shih-tzu properly, people pronounce it as, sheet-zoo.

If you are a puritan, then I do strongly encourage you not to call these dogs by their mis-pronounced name. Don’t say sheet-zoo! Say: SHIZI 獅子!!! (For non-Mandarin speakers, shi is pronounced like the word “shit” but without the “t”. Zi is pronounced: “dszzz” Or check google for the sound if this doesn’t make sense)

Go ahead! Confuse your friends! Refer to the dog by its proper Mandarin pronunciation! It’ll be fun! =D

It’ll also be a fun conversation starter every time you see a shih-tzu. You’ll be going, “Did you know? Shih-tzu is actually pronounced as shizi?”

Spread the word! (Better yet, refer them to this blog post!) =D