A small Pekingese dog was taken from China at the end of the Second Opium War by British troops, brought to England, and gifted to Queen Victoria. This dog was renamed Looty, after the activity of “looting,” in reference to how the dog was found during the looting of the Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) outside of Beijing. Looty lived for twelve years at the British royal palaces and died in 1872. It is not known where she was buried.
Amy Ching-Yan Lam revives Looty’s story in the context of Birmingham, which is the current site of Crufts, the largest dog show in the world, as well as the home of Ty-phoo tea, a brand named after the Chinese word for doctor. The colonial trades of tea and opium were closely linked and directly led to the Opium Wars, and the arrival of Pekingese dogs in England informed by new trends in dog breeding and eugenics. For close to fifty years, Pekingese dogs were the most popular breed of toy dog in England.
Looty Goes to Heaven takes the form of an animation, a speculative fiction, and a poppy meadow, presented in the area of Digbeth. The looping animation, made in collaboration with artist Emerson Maxwell, shows Looty in a state of eternal rest on screens in Digbeth and Victoria Square. The speculative fiction book, available in English and Traditional Chinese, imagines what Looty’s life and afterlife may have been like. The book is available for free at Eastside Projects and other screening sites.
The meadow, to be planted after the Games end, is a legacy project that will feature varieties of papaver somniferum (opium poppy) alongside a wildflower meadow. A small version of this meadow will grow this summer at the Digbeth Community Garden.