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A tale about the yingbei gou 鷹背狗 (eagle-back dog)

Album leaf from “Shi quan tuce” 十犬圖冊 by anonymous 18th-century court artist(s)

Picture credit: The Palace Museum, Beijing (




Tang Bogang [fl. 14th century][1] said that, in the north, whenever an inky eagle makes a nest, the local authority would send someone to scour the nest to find out the number of eggs. If there are three, arrangements would be made to guard them. Once hatched, [one of] them turns out to be a dog.[2] [The local authority] takes it, raises it, and presents it to the court when [it is] grown. [This kind of dog] looks the same as [ordinary] dogs, only with feathered ears. In the event of hunting, the eagle flies high up, whereas the dog moves on land, arriving at their prey at the same time. [These dogs] are called “eagle-back dogs”.[3]

On the right is a story from the Guest Talk in the East Garden[4]

[Inscribed by] Nanhu Yi[5]

[1] Little is known about this man. [2] The inscription seems to be an abridged version of an anecdote from Sun Daoyi 孫道易 (fl. 1383) Dongyuan youwen 東園友聞 (Heard from Friends in the East Garden), according to which only one of the three eggs becomes a dog. Also, the concluding remark of this passage reads, “When a being gives birth to three offspring, one of them must be different (物生三子,必有一異)”; see the collectanea Gujin shuohai 古今說海 which preserves Sun Daoyi’s text: The parallel text in Tao Zongyi’s 陶宗儀 (1322-1403) Chuogenglu輟耕錄 also indicates that only one of the three becomes a dog, see [3] Yang Ho-ji 楊龢之 associates historical anecdotes about the “eagle-back dog” with the introduction of the Saluki hound from the Middle East. The Saluki often works with eagles in hunting and some have remarkably long hair on their ears; see “Yingbeigou kao” 鷹背狗考 in Zhonghua kejishi xuehui xuekan 中華科技史學會學刊, 13 (2009): 47-65 ( [4] This is most likely to be an alternative title of the abovementioned Dongyuan youwen, or Heard from Friends in the East Garden. [5] Nanhu 南湖 is the style name of Li Tingyi 勵廷儀 (1669-1732), a scholar and minister of the Qing Dynasty.

A Saluki hound

Two Saluki hounds painted by Zhu Zhanji 朱瞻基 (Xuande Emperor 宣德, 1399-1435, ruling 1425-1435)

Picture credit: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Charles A. Coolidge


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