The significance of fish in Chinese culture

Fish is considered a lucky symbol in Chinese culture. The Mandarin word for fish 鱼 (yu) shares a similar pronunciation as 余 which means surplus or abundance. Due to the homophony, the Chinese tend to equate fish with these auspicious traits.

Significance of fish in Chinese culture
Chinese view fish as symbols of abundance and prosperity. Image source

Here are more interesting things about fish from a Chinese’s perspective.

A must-eat during Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is the most important Chinese festival. As they look forward to a year of abundance, fish becomes an indispensable dish on the dinner table, especially during the reunion dinner.

In Singapore, one of the most popular fish during Lunar New Year is the white spotted rabbitfish (白肚鱼). This is their mating season hence they are filled with creamy roe, making them extra delicious.

Significance of fish in Chinese culture
White spotted rabbitfish is especially expensive during Lunar New Year season due to high demand. Image source

Eat but don’t flip

While eating fish during Lunar New Year is a must, flipping the fish (after finishing one side) is a strict no-no.

It began with fishermen in the past, who considered flipping a fish as having the same connotation as a capsizing a boat. The tradition has been passed down to today, where flipping can mean an overturned vehicle.

Significance of fish in Chinese culture
Image source

Feng shui strategy

Apart from hobby and aesthetic purposes, many Chinese keep fish as part of their feng shui strategy. It is believed that having an aquarium at a calculated spot in the house or office is an effective way to enhance one’s wealth and career luck.

Significance of fish in Chinese culture
The Red Tail Gold Arowana is one of the many Asian Arowanas prized for their beauty, rarity and supposed ability to bring one good luck. Image source

The Asian Arowana (Scleropages Formsus) or Dragon Fish tops the list of auspicious fishes to keep, and a favourite among Chinese businessmen. It is believed that if the Arowana is treated well, it will protect its owner against misfortunes and bring him wealth and prosperity.

Say 年年有余

年年有余 (Nian nian yo yu) is a common Lunar New Year greeting which means “wishing you great abundance”. While this is not directly related to fish, the Mandarin word for fish 鱼 (yu) sounds similar to 余 which means surplus or abundance.

Significance of fish in Chinese culture
Traditional Chinese paper cutting with the words 年年有余. Image source

From 21 Jan – 11 Feb 2016, S.E.A. Aquarium has lined up some festive fun for the whole family with its Gong Sea Fa Cai programme. Details here

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