the meaning of koi…


I remember, when I was in China a few years ago, that a vendor in some shop was trying to sell a picture of fish… he insisted that it was special fish. Of course, once you get to know even a little about Chinese culture it becomes clear that no one wants to grace the walls of their home with something which isn’t special or fortuitous in some way – and by that I mean symbolically. Sometimes it is pretty direct and obvious such as a pomegranate meaning fertility because of all the seeds. And sometimes a working knowledge of the Chinese language is required – the item is lucky because it sounds like another lucky thing. This is why, as many people know, the reverse is true for Chinese of the number four – it is a homophone for “die”… not lucky!

So what is so special about the carp, especially the colourful variety which has come to be called in the west by the Japanese name of koi? It is lucky both due to the sound of the words and the symbolism invested in the fish by the culture. In Chinese, the whole name is:
li yu
These characters mean “carp fish” which sounds like “advantage” with “abundance” or “wealth”. As a result this  fish has come to be associated with getting ahead in business. Combine this with the fish’s association with the Buddhist religion where it means perseverance and courage in the face of adversity due to necessary upstream swims and you have a potent combination. Special fish indeed!

Just one more thing – sometimes in images, the fish are combined in curved pairs head to tail alluding to the yin-yang or tai chi symbol. In my image I give a nod to this tradition with the slightly curved fish bodies but the two fish are swimming along side by side.

On a personal note, I may be too busy for the next while to post every week day. I will have to see how it goes but I plan for now a minimum of Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

image (cc) 2009 Hilary Farmer

3 thoughts on “the meaning of koi…

  1. I actually see this as a picture of a willow with some fish in the background! Either way it’s lovely.

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