The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 11): Fish (鱼)

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | January 16, 2006


Watch Online (4:43) | Download (7,440KB)
Chinese version (English caption yet to be added)

An opening poem recitation by a group of children:

Fish swim in the water.
They swim here and there joyfully.
They enjoy showing off their sleek bodies.
They swim in all the lakes and oceans around the world.

Ying Ying: Look! There are a lot of fish here! They are so pretty!

Yuan Yuan: My goodness! It is a giant shark! It is scary-looking!

Teacher Wang: Don't be afraid. It is a whale shark. They are gigantic but harmless sharks. They have tiny teeth, and eat plankton and small fishes.

Ying Ying: Fish do not have legs. Why are they able to move so quickly?

Teacher Wang: Fish do not have legs, but they have fins. A tail fin to a fish is like a propeller to a motorboat. Muscles in the tail fin move it from side to side, forcing water backward, and propelling the fish forward. Other fins help the fish change direction and stop. Pectoral fins on their side help them swim up and down. Dorsal and anal fins on the top and bottom keep the fish upright. Pelvic fins on the underside help steer left and right. Flying fish have very prominent pectoral fins that enable it to skip on the ocean surface. Sometimes they will accidentally fly into fishing boats!

Yuan Yuan: Hey! Look! This fish is giving birth to baby fish from its mouth! It is incredible!

Teacher Wang: Look more carefully! That's a male Mouth Breeder. He is spitting out his children from his mouth so they can explore the world.

A female Mouth Breeder lays a lot of eggs. If these eggs are not looked after with meticulous care, they are likely to become another fish's dinner. To protect baby Mouth Breeders, a male Mouth Breeder keeps the eggs in his mouth. Once the eggs are hatched, he spits out the baby fish. It looks as though a male Mouth Breeder is giving birth to baby fish, but that is not true. There is a Chinese idiom, "Seeing is believing." Actually, most of the time what we see with our eyes may not be the truth. Even those things invisible to our naked eyes may actually exist.

Ying Ying: With eggs in his mouth, how does a daddy Mouth Breeder eat?

Teacher Wang: During the baby-sitting period, a daddy Mouth Breeder has to endure hunger.

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: Wow! Father Mouth Breeder is admirable!

Ying Ying: Does fish have anything to do with the Chinese culture?

Teacher Wang: Why don't we ask Grandpa Brush Pen to answer this question for you?

Grandpa Brush Pen: Fish have given the Chinese people a lot of inspiration. For instance, the Chinese people believe that a carp capable of flying through the powerful current in Dragon Gate will transform into a dragon. In many stories in Chinese history, fish and geese delivered letters and messages for people, hence spawning the expression in Chinese "exchanging letters via fish and geese."

In addition, fish are an important source of food; therefore, a prosperous town is often described as "a town of fish and rice" in Chinese.

In oracle-bone scriptures and inscriptions on bronze, there were a lot of variations for fish based on the appearance of different types of fish. They had a good resemblance to actual fish and looked more like children's sketches of different species of fish. These variations included symmetrical dorsal and pectoral fins. Some variations included a large mouth. For the sake of convenience in inscribing the character, each variation had the fish's head pointing north. In Small Seal form, the character had two dots next to the tail fin that resembles fire. But the two dots actually represent the muscle movement of the tail fin. In the modern handwriting, the two dots have become four dots and, thus, have lost their original meaning. Besides, the four dots are easily confused as the word root for fire, which has nothing to do with fish.

Grandpa Brush Pen: Fish has the same pronunciation as the character for "remaining" or "more than enough" in Chinese. Eating fish has a symbolic meaning of having more than enough. Therefore, the Chinese people traditionally like to wish each other "to have enough fish" or "to have more than enough" that actually mean to wish each other to be rich and to have more than enough in the coming year.

Yuan Yuan: Oh! No wonder my family always has fish on the table for the Chinese New Year dinner feast.

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