Informant: On Chinese New Year’s. We always eat fish because fish is like a lucky food but we don’t flip the fish over. Usually I feel like Asian people are pretty good about getting all of the meat like chicken and stuff because wasting is bad, but we don’t like, flip the fish that we eat on chinese new year, because that’s like bad luck. Because, I’m not super sure where it originates from, but if you – essentially the idea is like if you like, flip the fish, then the boat will flip over.
Interviewer: So you also don’t do this on boats, just in general.
Informant: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: So like if you want to get all the fish, you just kind of got to go through the ribs and everything and try to like dig it out from underneath.
My informant is a friend and fellow student at USC. She was raised in the LA area but her family is ethnically Chinese and immigrated from Vietnam so she has multiple East Asian influences in her life. Her family regularly celebrates Chinese New Year’s which is where she became aware of this tradition.
I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call
Some quick research reveals that this is a common and well-known practice, especially in coastal regions of China for exactly the reason my informant described – it’s considered similar to turning over a fishing boat. It makes sense then that this practice originated in coastal regions of China as a greater proportion of the population would make its livelihood through fishing.
Seeing as how my informant’s family is ethnically Chinese yet resided in Vietnam for the last couple generations it is very plausible that fish was a large part of their diet and thus they kept this tradition going all the way to America.