Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.
When you eat a whole finish, you can’t eat all the fish… like if you get the whole fsih in Chinese restaurants …if you finish all the fish meat then it means that you eat all your luck…You can’t eat it clean to the bones…You’re supposed to leave some part of the fish so you still have some luck left.
According to the informant, this folk-belief express how fish represents luck in Chinese culture. This folk-belief is passed on to him through his parents. Fish and fish meat represents luck. To finish the fish is then to finish your good luck and bad things can happen to you.
I think this idea might seem strange to other culture if the fish they consume is larger in size or fish is not cooked as a whole. Chinese cuisine uses fish that are large enough to fit onto one plate and is cooked as one piece. I think thag fish is also considered a delicacy that not many people get to eat because it is difficult to get it fresh. I think it is also very difficult to cook a whole fish and make it taste good. It is also a dish usually put in the middle of the table to be shared by all. In this case to finish the fish is then to eat everybody’s luck.
This reflect the importance of beliefs and superstitious and how it is entangles with everyday life. This is a scenario where there would be no method of proving the truth value scientifically but the folk-belief is practiced to prevent bad luck, and bring in good luck. This also shows the importance of belief itself whether or not it is true. It is similar to how people let other blow their dice for good luck or how some carry their own lucky charm. It shows how beliefs itself is psychologically important. The belief that good luck will remain will allow the individual to feel better than to have the belief that he/she finished his/her luck.
This is concept of fish as a symbol of luck is widespread. It ppears in Chinese Cooking for Dummies. In this book there is a special section titled “An ocean full of luck” where this idea is explained. “Fish has long held an auspicious position not only in the Chinese kitchen but also in Chinese culture. The Chinese word for fish, yu, is a homonym for another yu, meaning abundance or prosperity. Always in tune with symbolism, the Chinese have thus associated fish with the same luck and success as its homonym.” (Yan, 126-127). The book also stated how fish is perceived as luck in different context. It said that not only that fish is consumed for special occasion for good luck but is also used as a symbol for different events such as weddings. Chinese culture does have a lot of folk-belief around homonyms such as the negative connotation around the number four because it sounds like death.
This folk belief reinforces the psychological effect of the idea of “luck” how it is represented through object and actions around that object. In this case it is also similar to the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” To not finish the fish, in this case, is to have fish/luck remains.
Yan, Martin. Chinese Cooking for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Worldwide, 2000. Print. 126-127