Ovoid, body decorated with four carp in water weeds. Porcelain, overglaze 'famille verte' polychrome enamels on white body. Lid: wood, stained, carved with openwork 'long life' character on top.
This porcelain jar with famille verte enamel decorations was made during the Qing dynasty’s Kangxi period (1662–1722). It is decorated with carp swimming in a pond. Carp in Chinese is li yu: Yu means fish, and li yu means li fish, or carp. The pronunciation of yu 魚, meaning 'fish' is similar to the pronunciation of yu 餘, meaning 'plenty'. Images are used like words in Chinese art to create puns. In liyu 鯉魚 the pronunciation of carp is li 鯉, and fish is yu 魚. Together it means carp – liyu 鯉魚, li 鯉 in liyu 鯉魚, meaning carp, is similar in pronunciation to li 利, meaning profit.
On New Year’s Eve, Chinese families gather together for dinner, and fish, not necessarily carp, is served because of the word’s similarity in the pronunciation to plenty, or extra, in Chinese. The li sound in li yu means profit or monetary gain. The carp has additional significance for aspiring scholars because it was believed to swim up-river to the Dragon Gate, which it would leap and thus become a dragon. This is seen to represent the aspiring scholar who will pass the imperial examinations and become an official.