Languages › Mandarin The Significance of Fish in Chinese Language Share Flipboard Email Print Mandarin Understanding Chinese Characters Mandarin History and Culture Pronunciation Vocabulary by Qiu Gui Su Qiu Gui Su is a native Mandarin speaker who has taught Mandarin Chinese for over 20 years. Updated June 09, 2019 Learning the word for fish in Chinese can be a highly useful skill. 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. Deconstructing the Chinese word for "fish" includes learning about pronunciation and its evolution from pictograph to a simplified character. The Chinese Character for Fish The Chinese character for "fish," written in the traditional form, is 魚. The simplified form is 鱼. Regardless of what form it is written in, the word for fish in Chinese is pronounced like "you." Compared to English, the Chinese "yú" has a shorter, more relaxed ending, dropping the exaggerated "w" sound that rounds out the big, full vowel in "you." 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. Thus, 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 rays and skates) 魨 魨 tún leatherfish 鮚 鲒 jié oyster 鮞 鲕 ér caviar; roe/fish eggs 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. For instance, Asian carp (as they are known in the U.S.), are the subject of many Chinese lyrics and stories. The character for this creature 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 the idea that a carp that climbs the waterfall on the Yellow River (known as the Dragon Gate) transforms 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 examinations is like a carp attempting to leap the Dragon Gate. The dragon/carp relationship is referenced in popular culture in other countries through the Pokémon Magikarp and Gyarados. Continue Reading What Does the Chinese Character 家 Mean? Tips on How to Read Chinese How Are Strokes Used in Chinese Writing? 11 Taboos in Chinese Culture Why Is the Chinese Character for Horse so Important? "Rice"; "Food"; "Meal" in Chinese How Do You Say and Write "You" in Chinese? What You Should Know About These Chinese Good Luck Symbols Learning the Building Blocks of Chinese Characters Do You Know the Chinese Character for "Left"? Chinese New Year: Mythical Roots and Unique Customs How Many Chinese Languages Are There? Japanese Fish Proverbs The Significance of Red Envelopes in Chinese Culture How Do You Say 'Love' in Mandarin Chinese? What Does the Chinese Character 日 (rì) Mean?