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goldfish and humansA history

by Tiffany Brazell

oldfish are the most popular aquatic pet in the world. They are diverse in color and shape, active, and easy to obtain. You can show someone an image of any number of mainstream tropical fish-gouramis, rasboras, a plethora a tetras, or even a bettawhich is very popular itself-and odds are that they do not recognize or cannot identify the species by name. Show someone a goldfish, however, and they know instantly: thats a goldfish, duh! Most people who keep fish, seasoned and amateur aquarists alike, begin with goldfish. How did goldfish become the worlds favorite and best known wet-pet? Goldfish and humans have lived together for a long time. In his book The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Charles Darwin observed that the most significant thing about goldfish evolution is that its progression has been witnessed by humanity from the beginning.12 But where did this journey begin?

fish of wealth7

he Prussian carp, common ancestor of goldfish- all goldfish are thought to descend from Carassius auratus gibelio15- originated from a lake near Tche-Kiang in eastern China14. During the Jin Dynasty, between the third and fifth centuries, people were al-

ready using prussian carp as a common food source. The first record the of the silver carp exhibiting color mutations of red, yellow, and orange is dated between 265-420.5 By the Tang Dynasty (618-907)5, maintaining carp as ornamental animals had become very fashionable. Some kept private ponds while Buddhist monks cared for goldfish in monastery and temple gardens.9 Goldfish became an intrinsic part of Chinese culture. They are one of the eight sacred symbols of the Buddha that stands for fertility, abundance, and harmony with the flow of life.2 Even today a Chinese geomancer will tell you that fish should be included in the decoration of your home for luck and prosperity.4 Those husbanding the fish during the Tang Dynasty deemed the bright color mutations attractive and began to selectively breed them to achieve more fish with the favored golden color. People con3

trolled breeding

by keeping segregated species ponds that restricted undesirable intermingling of the animals. 12

of goldfish that could not thrive in outdoor ponds.8

oldfish were forbidden fruit to anyone outside the Imperial family during the Song Dynasty

(980-1279) .5 Their bright yellow hue mirrored the imperial color, so it was deemed inappropriate for anyone of lesser status to be in possession of one. It is possible that we have fewer yellow goldfish today than orange or red varieties because of the ban,

even though yellow is easier to obtain in breeding .6,5 That goldfish were an imperial exclusive added allure to the species at the time and in future generations.9 The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)5 allowed goldfish into Chinese homes. People began keeping them in glass bowls and other containers, which led to the rise of hundreds of fancy varieties In 1603, goldfish found their way to Japan.5 The wakin was the first variety to arrive.14 The Japanese added two well-loved varieties to the burgeoning assortment of goldfish through rigorous breeding of their own: the Ryukin and Tosakin. In 1611, goldfish were introduced to Portugal. From there, they spread throughout Europe. In the 1620s, it became popular for a man to give his wife a goldfish on their first anniversary, a promise of many good years ahead. 3,5 As goldfish became more widely available, and therefore less valued, the practice died; howver, the long-standing tradition of goldfish representing good fortune caught on in western culture. Goldfish reached the United States in the 1800s and gained rapid popularity there as well .3 The first farm was established in Maryland. 10

any more colors and varieties sprung up from long-term husbandry outside of Asia. The shubunkin goldfish, for example, which originates in Japan, now has off-shoot varieties developed in London, Bristol, and the United States. 11

Goldfish are a hardy breed of fish and will tolerate a great deal of abuse from people. In

recent years the widespread mistreatment of these one-time royal creatures has received some attention. Due to their potential for impressive size, as well as their massive waste output, goldfish should not be kept in bowls. Some countries now disallow the sale of fishbowls altogether under animal welfare legislature. Goldfish as carnival prizes have also been commonplace for a long time. In 2005, Rome passed laws that banned all animals from being doled out as prizes. The United Kingdom has tried to follow suit, but their current laws only prevent carnival workers from giving goldfish to unaccompanied minors.5 Goldfish swallowing, the swallowing of a live goldfish, became a college fad when Lothrop Withington Jr., a junior at Harvard, swallowed one in 1939. The trend grew across United States campuses and with each successive time people swallowed more fish.13 The fad was in full force for only two months, but many animals suffered horrible deaths by inhaling human stomach acid. By the 1970s, the record for goldfish swallowed in one sitting was three hundred. Soon after that final record was set, legislators stepped in and produced a bill that intended to preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption. 1 Unfortunately, the laws have not eradicated the behavior.

Lothrop Withington Jr. swallowing a live goldfish on March 3, 1939.

n contemporary times, people not only enjoy keeping goldfish as pets and for aesthetic purposes, as we have for millennia, but a culture for fish shows has also arisen. The first

goldfish show was held in Osaka Japan in 1862. The first western show was not held until Now people hold shows of their fine Carassius auratus specimens around the globe. The

1926, in London.10 water in the show tanks and health of the animals must be pristine. Each fish is designated to a class on arrival, which is a very difficult classification because of the vast interbreeding of different varieties; so many fish cannot easily be lumped into one category anymore. Once all of the fish are settled, the show floor is emptied and judges make their decisions. Sometimes the judging process can take up to five or six hours. Like any dog show or other animal shows, the fish are judged by preferred physical features such as color and proportions, according to their class, and then the winners of each class compete to win overall.7

o how did goldfish become the worlds favorite and best-known wet-pet? By living in the care of humans for thousands of years, evolving from silver carp, from the lakes of china to ornamental bowls, to giant beauties in

flashy show tanks. Goldfish have also become a symbol of plenty and good luck. Nevertheless, because goldfish have become so easy to obtain and lack expense, people have lost respect for them with the passage of time. They keep them in bowls where they quickly die of intoxication, hand them out at carnivals like lollipops, and swallow them in absurd college rites. We have made ourselves stewards of goldfish for millenia; why dont we love them more?

1. 1930s College Fun: Goldfish Swallowing. HubPages. Accessed Febuary 17, 2012. 2. Animal as Good Luck Symbols. Accessed Febuary 15,2012. 3. Exotic Goldfish. Accessed Febuary 19.2012. 4. Freshwater Fish and the Singaporean: Cultural Significance. Accessed Febuary 15, 2012. 5. Goldfish - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed Febuary 2, 2012. http:// 6. Goldfish History - Origins of The First Pet Fish Accessed January 28, 2012. http:// 7. Goldfish Shows. Accessed Febuary 20,2012. shows.html. 8. History of Gold Fish. Accessed January 28, 2012. 9. Information on Goldfish and Koi , Including Their Types, Care, Diseases , Pictures, Facts. Accessed January 28, 2012. 10. My Goldfish Article. Accessed Febuary 19, 2012. goldstory.htm. 11. Shubunkin Goldfish. Accessed Febuary 15, 2012. goldfish/shubunkin.php. 12. Smartt, J. Goldfish Varieties and Genetics: a Handbook for Breeders. (John Wiley & Sons, 2001) Digitized by Google. Chapter 2. 13. Swallowing Goldfish. Accessed Febuary 20, 2012. SwalG.html. 14. Wolf, Herman Theodore. Goldfish Breeds and Other Aquarium Fishes, Their Care and Propagation, (Innes & Sons 1908.) Digitzied by Google. Chapter 1. 15. An evolutionary origin and selection process of goldfish. Tomoyoshi komiyama, et al. Accessed January 28, 2012. S037811190800543X.


1. ckuhn55. Goldfish on Bicycle, a Photo from Ha Noi, Red River Delta | TrekEarth. Accessed Febuary 2, 2012. Ha_Noi/Hanoi/photo898365.htm. 2. CoPT, ToNToN. Texture Papyrus. Accessed January 28, 2012. photos/tontoncopt/1430420910/lightbox/. 3. Fick. Koi at Yuyan Garden-China. Photograph. Accessed Febuary 2, 2012. http://www. 4. Goldfish Swallowing (1940s). Accessed Febuary 20, 2012. http://www.mortaljourney. com/2011/01/1940-trends/goldfish-swallowing. 5. Koi America Goldfish Show 2005. Accessed Febuary 19, 2012. 6. Qing Dynasty KangXi Reign Five-colored Porcelain Pot with Goldfish Pattern. Porcelain. Accessed Febuary 2, 2012. 7. Tshei, Bei Rong. Fish of Wealth. Silk brocade mat, 15X23. Accessed January 28, 2012.