What does the dog mean in Chinese culture? The answers can be found in China's first dictionary, the Shuowen jiezi, written by Xu Shen in 121 CE. The Shuowen holds cynological knowledge well beyond the dog's olfactory ability, because it includes notes on vocalization discrimination, situational gait, and even behavioral and personality traits. The dog is also upheld as the representative of all nonhuman animals, undoubtedly because of its morphological and functional versatility but certainly also because it was the human's main interface and companion at the beginning of Chinese civilization. The Chinese graphs for the word “dog” embody both views: generically animalistic or eerily resembling human depictions. As a rift slowly took place in the partnership between humans and dogs when urbanization began, the graphs themselves were manipulated to clearly demarcate one from the other. Eventually dogs became discursive scapegoats. This paper traces the destiny of the dog in semantic and graphic terms.

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