How Koi Become Dragons


In the wild, koi are cold water fish who gain strength by swimming against currents. It seems they have captured the imagination of fish fanciers for centuries.   Many years ago, in a time before recorded history, a huge school containing thousands of koi swam up the Yellow River. The colors of their well muscled bodies flashed in the sunlight making them seem like a million living jewels. All was going well until the koi reached a waterfall. Immediately, a large number of them grew discouraged and turned back, finding it much easier to simply go with the flow of the river.   Yet, a determined group of 360 koi stayed on. Straining and leaping, each koi strove to reach the top of the falls. Again and again they flung their bodies into the air only to fall back into the water. All this splashing noise drew the attention of the local demons who laughed at the efforts of the struggling koi. Adding to their misery, the demons sadistically increased the height of the falls. Still the koi refused give up!   Undeterred, the koi continued their efforts for one hundred years. At last, with one heroic leap, a single koi reached the top of the falls. The God’s smiled down in approval and transformed the exhausted koi into a shining golden dragon. He joyfully spends his days chasing pearls of wisdom across the skies of the vast and eternal heavens. Whenever another koi finds the strength and courage to leap up the falls, he or she too becomes a heavenly dragon.   The falls have become know as the Dragon’s Gate and, because of their endurance and perseverance, koi have become symbolic of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny.
Swimming koi became symbolic of worldly aspiration and advancement. Carved stone seals bearing pictures of koi and dragons were given to young Chinese men who past the requisite tests to become government officials. I have such a seal in a decaying paper box. The box is skillfully decorated with flowers (lotus? Mums?) and lined with fraying red silk. The seal, carved from a golden brown stone which shows dark chocolate venations, is cylindrical in shape. The lower body of the seal is engraved with a poem and a scene depicting the Yellow River. The top is crowned with a delicate pierced work lattice of koi kissing a single pearl. The bottom of the chop retains traces of black ink. It’s age is unknown but I’m guessing it pre-dates WWII .   The Chinese delight in homophones and carve little good luck objects that capture these concepts. My seal may have belonged to a tradesman. In Chinese, "Carp" is similar sounding to the word "business". It is also homophonic with "profit" or "advantage." "Fish" is homophonic to "surplus" or "wealth". Koi are therefore considered symbolic of good fortune in business or academic life. It would seem only right that a professional academic should now own it, yes?
Koiponder Koiponder
46-50, F
15 Responses Jul 29, 2009

Can i please see a picture of this box?

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I have multiple tattoos of Koi some swimming up my arms and some down. it shows the achievements and struggles that go on simultaneously within us. I have know this story for years and I'm glad you put it out here for others to learn.

I actually had a tattoo done of this legend a little while back in the polynesian tribal style. It is pretty well known where I am from.

A friend told me of a legend of the koi that differs from this one a little. A koi fish is swimming and see a butterfly and jumps up and eats the butterfly and continues to swim then starts to sprout wing and then a head transforming it's self in to a dragon.

I liked the story because of the reference to the koi as a fish related to ancient Chinese art motifs as well as the cultural connection between the scaly fish, the koi, and various scaly serpentine dragons. You gave me a lot to think about,mam. thanks
and have a really awesome day

Love it... This legend represents my life after my dad passing away on my birthday this past year.. I'm almost over that waterfall..

I've been into this legend for a long time and now that i have had so many things in my life go wrong mostly people telling me that i couldnt do something, and i wasnt ever going to amount to anything. Just like the koi from the legend there was only a few who did not quit just to prove to themselves and others they could do anything that they set their minds too. I will be getting the tatto of a koi, and of the Dragon to symbolize i've proven to myself, and others that you can do anything u set your minds too. If something don't work out the first time don't get discouraged just keep your head up and try again.

Do you have a image of the carved stone seal the young chinese men get?

thank you for sharing this legend!

this is a legend i knew little of till now..
it has inspired a tatoo i wish to get, i too have recently been faced with adversity..
I am a victim of SANDY, she took, almost everything, but not my spirit..
This tatoo will be a symbol of my strength, and passion for life.. MIKE

very nice - I love Carps, I my mothers houese I made a medium size pound and around 20 of them. I miss looking at them. <br />
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Very strong fish!

A friend of mine told me of this legend this morning. He said that he is easy going and I said not me,I always swim against the current like the salmon.I seem to make things harder than they have to be. I found out this is a message of overcoming adversity and fulfilling my destiny!THANKS!!! The creator sends us what we need when we need it.Keep walking the RED ROAD and you will get there sooner or later.Sincerely, Silent Thunder

Hey that's such a nice read. :)

Very pleased to be of help!

Thanks for sharing this story. I had not read this one before so I am especially thrilled to add yet another bit of history to my collection of dragon lore.