Stylized carp, late Ming dynasty
(early 17th century)
Sold by Musée des Confluences
It is especially towards the end of the Ming dynasty that the Chinese decorative art knew its period of glory. The superb style of this carp is a good example.
The Chinese word for fish, yu, is phonetically similar to the word for wealth and opulence, which explains the frequent reproduction of fish in art.
The carp is also associated in Chinese culture with social success. In mythology, it can symbolize the transformation of a dragon, or the transformation into a dragon when it succeeds in climbing the waterfalls of the Dragon Gate on the Yellow River. Only a few carp out of the thousands that gather each spring at the foot of the falls manage this feat. This is why it was compared to passing the difficult exam for high positions in the administration. To this day, the jumping carp is presented to students as a symbol of the difficulty of climbing the social hierarchy through work.