Myths
Narrative

Carp and Dragons in Vietnam

There’s a story in Vietnamese mythology that’s similar to the Chinese or Japanese story about the koi fish becoming a dragon.

There was an emperor who wanted to create new dragons because dragons bring rain, which helps crops grow. So many animals in the ocean were summoned to have a competition, where they had to jump over three gates of rain. The first animal that could jump over all three would get to be transformed into a dragon.

First, a fish—I think it was a tilapia?—tried, but only got past the first gate. The second to try was a catfish, but it hit its head on the second, so its head got flattened. The emperor rewarded it with dragon whiskers for effort. Next came the shrimp, but it only got past the second, so the emperor made it look like a miniature dragon. Lastly the carp tried, and it got past all three, so the emperor transformed it into a dragon.

Because of this, dragons symbolize success and wealth, and education in Vietnam is compared to the three gates.

Informant is a Vietnamese American and a member of USC VSA, and grew up learning about Vietnamese culture.

The carp’s transformation into a dragon is a common motif in Asian mythologies, with slight variations in each culture’s telling. It is also interesting to note that this myth has parallels to social function.

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