Chinese character for fish (yu
鱼) is pronounced the same as
the Chinese character for
surplus (yu 余),
the fish symbol
is frequently used to symbolize the wish for more in the sense of good
luck, good fortune, long life, children, etc.
And, the Chinese particularly like to fashion charms using the carp
fish as the model because the Chinese character for carp (li 鲤) is pronounced the same as the
character (li 利) for "profit".
The Carp Fish and the "Dragon Gate"
as a Symbol of Perseverance
One of the most frequently seen
images in Chinese art is that of a carp swimming and leaping against
current of a river to reach the spawning grounds. The images
illustrate 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.
understand this to be an allegory for the persistent effort needed to
Life's Gates and Crises
The Chinese believe that a person
must pass through a number of gates, barriers and crises during the
course of one's life. These barriers or gates are
called guan (关) in
Chinese. A child by the age of 15 is supposed to have passed
through 30 of these dangerous gates. These life barriers have
names such as the "Barrier of the Demon of the Four Seasons", "Barrier
of the Devil's Gate", and "Barrier where the Bowels are Severed" among
During ancient times, medical care was primitive and the
mortality rate for Chinese children was very high. Chinese
parents therefore relied on charms and rituals to help protect their
children as they faced these difficult passages and crises in growing
A Fish Charm to Protect
Against Life's Barriers
The old charm shown here is in the
shape of a carp fish because it is meant to symbolize persistence and
effort in crossing life's barriers or gates as a child grows to
The inscription is read right to left as guan sha xiao chu (官煞消除).
Just as the Chinese like to use animals and objects to symbolize other
things with the same pronunciation (see hidden
meaning), in this inscription the first character guan (官), which means
an official, should actually be written as guan (关) which means a gate
or barrier. Guan sha (关煞)
to the "crises in a child's life" and xiao
chu (消除) means
"to dispel or eliminate".
For the Chinese language purists, the character chu (除) in the
inscription is also written incorrectly with the radical " 亻".
The charm in the shape of a carp fish with this inscription thus
symbolizes perseverance in overcoming the barriers and gates a child
must pass through to reach adulthood.
side of the charm has no inscription. The prominent
scales indicate that the fish is a carp.
This charm has a maximum length of 59 mm and maximum width of 31 mm.
The charm weighs 16.8 grams.
For other charms used by Chinese parents to protect their children
please see Chinese Lock Charms.
To see an ancient Chinese coin with a fish depicted on its reverse side
cast in 214 AD during the Three Kingdoms period, please visit Chinese Coins with Charm