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Goldfish Appreciation - Why do this fish win?


Even before I start analyzing the positive and the negative point of the fish, let’s reflect on my personal viewpoint of goldfish appreciation and perhaps try to understand, respect and appreciate the viewpoint of the rest of the judges around the world.


In my personal opinion, some love Picasso’s distinctive painting style while other love Vincent van Gogh’s work of colours. Hence, in term of all form of arts appreciation, there could never be possible to conform into particular specification. Consequently, for this very same reason, the results of goldfish competitions around the world are constantly subjected to many opinions.


I couldn’t think of a better way to start this topic than bringing us back to the origin birth place of goldfish – China.

  • Jin Dynasty (265-419 AD)
  • Tang Dynasty (618-907)
  • Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)
  • Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
  • Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

    Poem about goldfish has been recorded since the Jin Dynasty which is about 1000 years ago. However, the expansion and the great depth of goldfish appreciation were never evolved much until the Ming and Qing Dynasty periods. During these periods, many new varieties of goldfish were developed and the goldfish hobby has extended to Japan during Ming Dynasty and then to USA during the Qing Dynasty.


    Finally, in 1596, Ming Dynasty, Zhang Qiande wrote the very first book about goldfish entitled ‘A Manual of Goldfish’. It stated that a top representative of a goldfish should be Stout, Robust and Graceful, regardless to the different form of shapes.


    Later in 1893, Qing Dynasty, Bao Wufeng went one step further to classify and appraise the goldfish as following... ...

  • A compact or stocky, well-proportioned body
  • A large, straight tail
  • Evenly set, symmetrical eyes
  • A regularly shaped, rounded body
  • Beauty of movement and charm (Shenyun)

  • (For foreigner, SHENYUN, is similar to ‘charisma’ or what most called it the ‘X-factor’)


    There is always a saying “a rare thing is a precious”. Rarity is one objective standard with which to evaluate goldfish. In 1904, another Goldfish connoisseur, Zhuo Yuan stated: “Tens of thousands of hatchlings have grown and kept to the point when they have fully developed a shaped like goldfish, then through careful selection out of those ten thousand juvenile fish, one chooses one thousands. Next, out of that thousand one picks out one hundreds and finally, out of that hundred one selects ten fish. Only thus can one can possible obtain an excellent, first rate fish that outshine all others.”


    In the recent year, an establish China goldfish farm, expert in breeding and selling goldfish has also come out with their aspect / principle of appreciation... ..

  • Fine Quality
  • Large Size
  • Rarity

  • The beauty will be flawed if it does not demonstrate all three principles in a harmonious balance.


    First and foremost, Fine Quality defines a beauty must have a good balance that reflected in the fish’s ease of movement, steadiness, and firmness. This requirement is consistent through the history. As mentioned by Zhang Qiande as Gracefulness and by Bao Wufeng as Beauty of movement (Shenyun).


    Goldfish are living jewels and when they glide in the water, it possesses a charm to delight and please the heart of viewers. Hence a fish maintaining the centre of gravity (physical equilibrium) is an important factor of Fine Quality. Off balance fish with head that is too great or tail fin is too large, resulting the fish cannot move freely and spends its time resting a the bottom, naturally detracts from its visual appeal and points in a competition.


    Large Size – in the present day, this perspective has been overly simplified. The establish China goldfish farm believe that the beauty of size makes the fish stand out from the rest of its competitors, provided it also reflects a level of robustness resulting a qualities and powerful aesthetic appeal. ONLY with the combination of these two distinct measures before it constitutes the beauty of size.


    In many competitions, the First prize winner of each category will compete for the Grand Champion title. However, many connoisseurs around the world feel that it makes no sense to use fish from two different varieties as a basis of comparison, since there is no common basis upon which to make a useful comparison.


    Secondly, goldfish raised in different locations are the products of different environments and water qualities. I learned that goldfish from northern China tend to be graceful and slender, while those from the south are plump and refine (also different in the type of head-growth). Despite a different in body shape and size, both are dignified in their movements. Hence with all of these variables in consideration, it is very difficult for a connoisseur to evaluate.


    Thirdly, in addition the beauty of size only applies to young fish and to fish that have been raised naturally. If a fish has attained an extra-ordinary size naturally but it is already the twilight of its life, its potential for further growth is all but exhausted and size is not longer really a mark of beauty.


    At this point, I would like to highlight that all standards of goldfish beauty are firmly bound to a particular historical period. It’s like a fashion wear which continue to vary with time. In summation, any given goldfish fan or lover judgements will be influenced by his or her personal taste and level of connoisseurship. And because of this, often fish that is unexpected to win would some time win, and likewise the fish that is expected to win, some time didn’t win. Tastes differences, levels of expertise differences, and also each individual will have a different set of appraisal for the same aesthetic object (the fish), has always and has remain as part of goldfish competition.


    With much said, let’s take a look at the ranchu photo (taken on previous Thai competition) below. This is a prize winner fish in the recent prestigious Thai goldfish competition. In that competition, breeders and farmers were the major competitors. Hence the entries standard of the fish was very high. To my present surprise, this fish has travelled down to City Cup to compete.


    Together with the other 4 international judges including UK and US, this fish has no doubt won a place in every single judge on that competition. It scored a distinction (on the head portion) for an excellent specimen of a buffalo head. The physical deportment of the fish also demonstrated the centre of gravity giving a perfect equilibrium.


    Coming from angle of the City Cup judges’ viewpoint, perhaps this fish were a bit tired during the judging time. It was not swimming but resting at the corner of the tank. This has brought great disadvantage to the fish, as a portion of City Cup judging score depends on the robustness and activeness. The other reason could be that there is a slight unevenness on the back curve which was not desirable for some judges. With that, it is very unfortunate for this fish to be edged out of the top 12 prized.


    For most spectacle or non hobbyists, the general question I got was “why the Thai Cup winner did not win?” (See photo below)


    In some judging criteria, one of the most important factors is the dorsal fin. Once a champion, but now it can no longer keep its dorsal fin erect in this competition. One can also find fin torn and folded. Nevertheless, for such a big fish like this, it still able to hold up its tail beyond 45 degree is really amazing. With proper grooming perhaps this fish would easily bring home another two or three trophy!


    Now, we shall take a look at City Cup Grand Champion... ...


    Winning Point (1)
    Most ranchu more or less has a little hump at the start of the back curve just after the head. However, for this fish, the head are well aligned to the back. Such feature gives an overall impression of a smooth curve starting from the tip of the mouth to the start of the tail fin. This is a very impressive factor.


    Winning Point (2)
    While some preferred a gentle back-curve between the back to the tail, some preferred the caudal peduncle to have a back-curve sharply curved downwards to meet the tail. The caudal peduncle should be broad and neither too long (have a gap between the tail and the abdomen) or too short (giving an extreme short body length effect). This winner has a perfect curve without the slightest unevenness and broad peduncle. This score in term of Rarity.


    Winning Point (3)
    For ranchu, the caudal peduncle joining to the tails is an important factor, because it affects the way the fish swim. This fish has a sharp forty-five degree ‘V’ cut between the peduncle join and the tail fin. This is another desirable point.


    Winning Point (4)
    The pelvic fins are perpendicular stretch from the bottom of the fish, giving it a very majestic appeal.


    Above four points can be found separately in many ranchu, but for one to achieve all the four points is definitely not an everyday ranchu!


    Let us go back and discuss a little more about the judging criteria. There are basically two kinds of goldfish connoisseurs, one who judges base on ‘Overall Appeal’ and the other who judge base on ‘Detail Faulting’.


    "Overall Appeal" means that the judges look at the overall physical aesthetic composition, having the body complementing the fins, and head or head growth. How the fish is able to work beautifully with its fins. In all the fish should be stout, robust, and graceful which is back to the very basic of goldfish appreciation. Hence, the down side of such judgement is that it is exceptional difficult for the connoisseurs to put in words for other to know. It is base on experience and the level of connoisseurship. Generally, such connoisseurs usually have a very good sense of artistic skill.


    "Detail Faulting" means that the judges approach the goldfish appreciation by single out the number of fault. Fish with major fault or a number of minor faults would be disregard. Instead of stepping back and have an overall view, the connoisseurs tend to focus into the individual features. The winning fish from such aspect are usually faultless. However, it might lose up to general appeal. Such connoisseurs usually are breeders and farmers who spent days looking at hundreds or even thousand of fish, and very naturally, their focus are on isolation features.


    Perhaps, by now, you would able to identify whether the board of judges are the “Detail Faulting” judge or the “Overall Appeal” judge through the result of the winning fish. SMILE.


    The other interesting issue is the debating session among the judges regarding the ranking of second and third position. During the discussion, the judges have remained firmed and professional in their opinion when come to the ranking of the fish. And yet the judges have display the wisdom of a great connoisseur - accepting, understanding, respecting and appreciating the outcome without any grievance. I honour them and look forward to learn more from them and also the rest of the judges around the world.


    The second prize winner is a bright orange-red oranda, it has a fantastic tail spread, together with erected dorsal fin and perpendicular pelvic fin. Basically, it is a faultless fish. However the overall appeal tends to lose out compared to the third prize winner.


    As for the third prize winner, it has a wonderful appeal to public. There is the ‘shenyun’ in the fish. Portraying a majestic look! It has a better size compared to the second prize winner. On the other hand, the tail fin is slightly inferior compared the rest of the features of the fish. Dorsal fin is slightly curved and the pelvic fin is not that perpendicular. Perhaps these weakness somewhat affect the overall appeal, in my personal opinion.


    To me, they are both equal winner, there is no rank different between them.


    The beginnings of this article states the early standards of appreciation and were based on the physical characteristics (external form) of goldfish developed at that time. As we can see, connoisseurs’ judgments about aesthetic standards for goldfish are closely connected to the continuous evolution of goldfish. Since there are no limits to the possible evolution of goldfish, our ways of evaluating and describing the beauty of goldfish are also limitless.


    Last but not least, I would like to end this article with a deep appreciation of the judges that have taken time and effort to share the joy of goldfish appreciation.



    Steven TONG, President of FYNNMOOD

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