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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A statement of class

December 8, 2009

By Guo Shuhan and Huo Yan (China Daily)

Updated: 2009-12-08 08:07
<China Daily is Chinese government run media>

The Tibetan Mastiff, originating from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, will
fight to the last breath against a pack of wolves. Huo Yan

Yingzi, a pure-white, 9-month-old Tibetan Mastiff, jumps at her owner
and rests her front paws on his shoulder. Sometimes, Yingzi even tears
at his trousers to show her affection.

"I can't recall how many clothes Yingzi has bitten to pieces," says her
master, Li Jianzhong. Not that the damage concerns him particularly.
After all, Yingzi, meaning "Heroine", along with Li's 14 other mastiffs,
were valued at a whopping 3.9 million yuan ($571,200) recently.

Owning Tibetan Mastiffs has become the latest status symbol for China's
new rich. With no more than 100 pure breeds recognized by experts, it is
ranked the most expensive dog in the world.

Li is cautious with Yingzi, his favorite, as she is also the most
aggressive of his mastiffs. His 25-hectare estate in the suburbs of
Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, houses his collection of five
rare stalactites, each of which could easily fetch millions of yuan.

Tibetan Mastiffs are known as ferocious fighters and Yingzi and the
other dogs are fenced in on different locations on the sprawling estate.
Whenever Li walks around, Yingzi rushes to the fence, and squeezes her
head out to lick his hand.

Li is not the only rich Chinese with an adoration of this breed.

A month ago, a 27-year-old millionairess held a dramatic reception for
her mastiff, Yangtze River No 2, with a convoy of 30 Mercedes-Benz at
the airport in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. The woman, surnamed Wang claimed
that the dog had cost her 4 million yuan ($586,000), setting a new
record in the dog market.

The Tibetan Mastiff, or Zang'ao in Chinese, is an ancient breed
originating on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It is believed to be one of
the oldest canine species, with little human interference in its evolution.

Traditionally raised by Tibetan herdsmen, the dogs are known to fight
till their last breath to protect their masters. Even the ferocious
coyote and snow leopard are said to recoil from a mastiff's fatal attack.

The fame of the Tibetan Mastiff soared in 2003, when the first
exhibition of the dog was held in Beijing.

Liu Chao, co-organizer of the exhibition, says the number of clicks on
his pets' website doubled after the exhibition.

This prompted him to set up a new website just for the mastiff in 2004,
named Tibetan Mastiff Online (www.aiao.cn), which has emerged as the
most influential Chinese website for the breed.

In the past decade, the mastiff's qualities of extreme loyalty and
vigilance have been attracting the attention of the moneyed class.

"The year 2004 marked a milestone for business in this breed," recalls
Liu. "Besides mastiff lovers, many private entrepreneurs favor the dog
to guard their villas or other properties, which are often located in
the suburbs."

While the expensive mastiffs have become a new way of showing off
wealth, people like Li also like the fact that they are effective guard
dogs.

Li says he has fired three batches of guards, suspecting them of "sticky
fingers".

"The mastiffs make us feel safer," says Li, whose villa is installed
with some 40 infrared light cameras.

Of his 15 dogs, Li has given four to friends and two were dead. The nine
healthy ones are between 5 and 9 months old and each costs 170 yuan
($25) per day to maintain, and this is not counting their snacks and the
salary of their professional trainers.

"My mother-in-law and wife once thought I was crazy to spend a sum that
could buy a Mercedes-Benz on a pack of dogs. But they are quite fond of
these pretty and lovely puppies now," says Li.

Recently, news that the bidding price of another mastiff, Hong Li, was
put at $6 million, stunned the public. Its owner, Han Lianming, is one
of the first professional mastiff breeders in China, and the famed dog
has not found a buyer yet.

Tibetan Mastiff breeding centers have mushroomed across the country.
Each spring, customers from home and abroad swarm to such bases, looking
for pups that can be sold later for a sizeable profit.

Zhang Liangxian, who started a breeding base in 2006 in Suqian, Jiangsu
province, says hardly any pups are left at the end of each year's
dealing season.

However, some have warned that this red hot market for the breed will
not last.

Chen Yong, a veteran breeder who runs a small base in Liangxiang in the
northern suburbs of Beijing, says some buyers do not even know what a
genuine Tibetan Mastiff looks like.

Chen has been trying to tell people that the mastiff is not worth such a
large sum of money.

"The price for a mature pedigree Tibetan Mastiff should be around 1
million yuan," says Chen
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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