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Chinese culture has a very symbolic tradition, which you can also see in the fact how Chinese language developed over the last centuries from its origin in oracle bones which were used for divination by ritual specialist – people we would consider healers or magicians today. You can still understand from where Chinese language has developed when you look at the fact that nowadays Chinese language uses symbols as opposed to Western languages where the letters just represent a way to define sounds and spoken words.

Because of this tradition, Chinese language is a lot about wordplay or riddles. The Chinese word for fish (鱼/yú) sounds very similar to the character (裕/ yù) in the word chōngyù (充裕) which means plentiful or abundant. Thus the fish has become a symbol for wealth in Chinese culture.




The fish most often depicted in Asian painting is the carp or the Koi which belongs to the family of the carp. This fish symbolizes longevity because carps can get very old (provided they make it through Chinese New Year) and at the same time, the big scales on the body of a carp somehow remind of the skin of a dragon, the dragon being probably the most revered symbol in Chinese culture together with the Phoenix.

Because of the long history of Chinese culture which later strongly influenced Japanese culture, it is always difficult to clearly attribute only one symbolic meaning to an object – very often several meanings and ways of interpretation are intertwined. One other attempt of explanation could be that the fish has a very strong symbolic role in Buddhism which the carp or Koi could have come to represent in the Chinese and Japanese artistic tradition.

Chinese ink painting carp fish .JPG

Finally, in Asian cultures fish stands as a symbol for fertility – some sources say it is because of the huge amount of offspring most fish have, other sources claim it is because of the tendency of many kinds of fish to live in shoals. Another symbolic association could be the simplified shape of a fish vaguely reminding of a female vagina. When it comes to seeing the fish as a symbol of fertility, Chinese and Western culture share the same interpretation.

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