While considered a molossoid breed, the exact makeup of the Shar-Pei is unknown. Derived from China, the Shar-Pei breed is believed by science to be an ancient breed. The Ancient breeds are considered by science to be breeds most closely genetically related to the wolf. However, the study that derived from this conclusion is questioned due to the level of actual representatives studied and breeding practices that have affected domesticated dogs and wild wolf populations.
Two unique characteristics the Shar-Pei has are the blue-black tongue, which is believed due to Chow Chow infusion into the breed, and their loose skin, which allows them to twist in their skin to fend off an attack literally.
During the Communist Revolution, the Shar-Pei population dropped to dangerous levels putting the breed at risk for extinction. During this time, a businessman from Hong Kong named Matgo Law made an appeal to Americans and subsequently smuggled in 200 Shar-Pei to re-institute the breed. Because most Shar-Pei are now the descendants of these 200, a notable difference is observed between the new American Shar-Pei and the ones that still originate from China.
As with many show breeds, those in the show ring have sought to exaggerate some desired characteristics. Examples of such exaggerations are reducing their size and preferences toward greater wrinkling. Those that remain true in China are often referred to as bone-mouth Shar-Pei, whereas the westernized version is referred to as meat-mouth Shar-Pei.
Many fall in love with this breed when they see the pups due to their heavy wrinkling. However, as the dog matures, it literally grows into its skin, and the wrinkles become less pronounced. Others love the hippopotamus shape of the head.
The Shar-Pei name itself means sandy coat, which refers to its harsh feel than to its coloration.