Humanities › Languages The Significance of Fish in Chinese Language The Evolution of the Chinese Character and the Cultural Importance of Fish Share Flipboard Email Print Languages Mandarin Chinese Characters Basics History & Culture Pronunciation & Conversation Vocabulary English as a Second Language Spanish French German Italian Japanese Russian English Grammar View More by Qiu Gui Su Qiu Gui Su is a native Mandarin speaker who has taught Mandarin Chinese for over 20 years. Updated September 29, 2017 Learning the word for fish in Chinese can be a much more useful skill than you initially imagined. From ordering seafood at a restaurant to understanding why there are so many fish themed decorations during Chinese New Years, knowing how to say fish in Chinese is both practical and an insight into cultural values. That's why we are going to deconstruct the Chinese word for fish by learning about its evolution from pictograph to a simplified character, its pronunciation, and more. The Chinese Character for Fish The Chinese character for fish written in the traditional form is 魚 while the simplified form is 鱼. Regardless of what form it is written in, the word for fish in Chinese is pronounced, yú. Evolution of the Chinese Character for Fish The traditional form of the Chinese character for fish evolved from an ancient pictograph. In its earliest form, the word for fish clearly showed the fins, eyes, and scales of a fish. The current traditional form incorporates the four strokes of the fire radical, which looks like this (灬).Perhaps this addition suggests that fish is most useful to human beings when it is cooked. Radical This character is also a traditional radical, meaning that the primary graphical component of the character is used as a building block in other, more complex Chinese characters. Radicals, also sometimes called classifiers, ultimately become a shared graphical component for several characters. That is why the Chinese dictionary is often organized by radical. Many complex characters share the radical that derives from "fish." Surprisingly, a lot of them are not related to fish or seafood at all. Here are some of the most common examples of Chinese characters with a fish radical. Traditional Characters Simplified Characters Pinyin English 八帶魚 八带鱼 bā dài yú octopus 鮑魚 鲍鱼 bào yú abalone 捕魚 捕鱼 bǔ yú to catch fish 炒魷魚 炒鱿鱼 chǎo yóu yú to be fired 釣魚 钓鱼 diào yú to go fishing 鱷魚 鳄鱼 è yú alligator; crocodile 鮭魚 鮭鱼 guī yú salmon 金魚 金鱼 jīn yú goldfish 鯨魚 鲸鱼 jīng yú whale 鯊魚 鲨鱼 shā yú shark 魚夫 鱼夫 yú fū fisherman 魚竿 鱼竿 yú gān fishing rod 魚網 鱼网 yú wǎng fishing net 魦 魦 shā shark family (including animals like rays and skates) 魨 魨 tún leatherfish 鮚 鲒 jié oyster 鮞 鲕 ér caviar; fish roe 鯁 鲠 gěng blunt; fish bones; unyielding 鯖 鲭 qīng mackerel; mullet 鯨 鲸 jīng whale 鱟 鲎 hòu king crab Cultural Importance of Fish in China The pronunciation of fish in Chinese, yú, is a homophone for “affluence” or “abundance." This phonetic similarity has led to fish becoming a symbol of abundance and prosperity in Chinese culture. As such, fish are a common symbol in Chinese art and literature, and they are particularly important in Chinese mythology. Asian carp (as they are known in the United States), for instance, are the subject of many Chinese lyrics and stories, the character for which is 鲤 鱼 pronounced lǐ yú. Pictures and depictions of fish are also a common decoration for Chinese New Year. Fish in Chinese Mythology One of the most interesting Chinese myths about fish is that if a carp can climb the waterfall on the Yellow River, known as the Dragon Gate, the carp will transform into a dragon. The dragon is another important symbol in Chinese culture. In reality, each spring carp gather in great numbers in the pool at the base of the waterfall, but very few actually make the climb. It has become a common saying in China that a student facing his or her examinations is like a carp attempting to leap the Dragon Gate. Continue Reading How Many Chinese Languages Are There? "Rice"; "Food"; "Meal" in Chinese How Are Strokes Used in Chinese Writing? Tips on How to Read Chinese What Does the Chinese Character 家 Mean? How Do You Say and Write "You" in Chinese? Why Is the Chinese Character for Horse so Important? Learning the building blocks of Chinese characters Surprising English Words That Were Actually Borrowed from Chinese How Do You Say "Dad" in Chinese? How Do You Say 'Love' in Mandarin Chinese? How to Say "Hello" in Chinese Chinese Language Characters as Pictographs What Does "He" in Chinese Really Mean? How Do You Say Goodbye in Chinese? How Do You Say and Write "I" in Chinese?