Folk Beliefs

Do not turn over a cooked fish

The informant is from Shanghai, China. She came to the United States when she was in middle school. Her family still lives in Shanghai, and she returns home every break. Her primary language is Cantonese. She is 20 years old, and she majors in Cinematic Arts. 

Superstition: When you eat a whole fish, steamed or boiled, on a plate, do not turn over the fish after you are done with the top side. It’s bad luck. Flipping the fish symbolizes a fisherman’s ship flipping or crashing.

Informant: “It’s a popular superstition in China. Even though not everyone follows it, everyone knows about it. My family use chopsticks to pull the flesh from beneath the fish after we are done with the front part. We don’t have to explain why. We tacitly all agree not to. For me, I don’t believe that a fisherman’s ship would flip if I turn over the fish. However I just don’t flip the fish. After all it symbolizes bad luck, and why not avoid it? Also, not turning over the fish became a habit. In fact, I almost never am reminded of the superstition when I eat fish”

The informant is from Shanghai, one of the most important sea ports in the Yangtze Delta region. The sea environment and importance of fish industry led people in Shanghai to create such superstition and believe in it. One interesting thing is that the informant does not believe in the superstition, but still follows it. She is not reminded of the superstition, so it is clear that this superstition has lost its meaning. Then why come people avoid turning over a cooked fish? I think it came to be associated largely with ‘bad luck’ instead of specifically crashing of the fisherman’s boat. As seen, connotations of superstition changes over time.

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