A jade dragon fish vase

Jade vase
Jade vase


18th century
Length: 6 1/2 in, 16.5 cm

worked as a dragon fish rising from waves, with a smaller dragon perched on the creature’s back. The fish’s head has already transformed into that of a dragon, with two horns, an incised mane, large eyes beneath curling brows and long whiskers; its jaws are open, creating the mouth of the vase, to catch the flaming pearl which rests on its lower lip. Its body has not yet changed and has scales and fins. The stone is a greyish-green tone.

Formerly in a Western private collection.

The subject of the vase, the transformation of a carp leaping the rapids of the Dragon Gate in the Yellow River, is a popular metaphor for a scholar passing the civil examinations and becoming a high official.

For related examples, see Na Chih-liang, Wu Feng-p’ei and Ch’en Liu-mei, Masterworks of Chinese Jade in the National Palace Museum (National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1969), pl. 38, and note also the Ming example illustrated as pl. 25; and Palace Museum, Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade (Beijing, 2011), Vol. 8, nos. 167 and 168, pp. 212–13.