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 ob