The Fish in Chinese Art and Mahjong Part 1

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This beautiful rare jar was on display at Sotheby's during Asia Week 2014. It dates from the Jiajing Dynasty.

 

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Above is another view of the same jar.  A carp is depicted, a fish with great symbolism to the Chinese. You can recognize a carp because of his whiskers, considered to be an indication of its supernatural powers.

From Chinese Charms, Hidden Meanings of Symbols on Primaltrek

The carp fish is a commonly seen visual pun because the Chinese character for carp (li 鲤) is pronounced the same as both the character (li 利) for "profit" and the character (li 力) for "strength" or "power".

The carp is also a symbol for an abundance of children because it produces many eggs.

A pair of carp symbolizes a harmonious marriage.

A frequently seen image is of a carp swimming and leaping against the current of a river to reach the spawning grounds.  This refers to the legend (liyutiaolongmen 鲤鱼跳龙门) that a carp which is able to leap over the mythical "Dragon Gate" will become a dragon.  This is an allegory for the persistent effort needed to overcome obstacles.

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Above we see a detail of an Imperial robe in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. You can make out the two carp, one on either side of the front sides of the robe. The two carp symbolize a happy marriage, probably one with many children given two of the image's meanings.

 

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Above we have a close up of a plate from the Ralph M. Chait Gallery. The carp is located right in the middle.

 

 

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Above is a One Bam from a fabulous and unusual set of tiles. You can see the carp, clearly recognizable by his whiskers. Perhaps he is poised to swim upstream, ready to face obstacles to achieve success. And don't you love his red eye?!

The Mahjong tiles are a set from reader Kathy's collection. Thank you.

Please send photos or ideas for posts to

kuanyin@mahjongtreasures.com

 

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