Jars of this type are among the most admired of all the imperial porcelain of the Jiajing reign, since the wucai palette is particularly effective for the depiction of this theme and the large scale of the jar provides an excellent 'canvas' on which the ceramic decorator could arrange the undulating composition of fish and aquatic plants. Several jars of this type are to be found in major international museum collections in Europe, Japan and America. Five are preserved in China, including one which was excavated in 1967 in Hepingli, Chaoyangqu, Beijing, published in Wenwu, 1972: 6, p. 64, and inside back cover. Two others are preserved in Beijing. One in the collection of the Palace Museum (fig. 1) is illustrated in Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colors, The Complete Treasures of the Palace Museum, Vol. 38, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 16, no. 15. The other, excavated in Beijing in 1955, in the Chinese History Museum is illustrated in Zhonggguo wenwu jinghua daquan, Taipei, 1993, p. 395, no. 772. Similar jars are also in the collections of the Shanghai Museum, illustrated by Liu Liang-yu in Ming Official Wares, Survey of Chinese Ceramics, Vol. 4, Taipei, 1991, p. 212, lower left image, and the Tianjin Museum, illustrated in Porcelain from the Tianjin Municipal Museum, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 198, pl. 116.
Other examples are in major museum collections around the world. One from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is illustrated in Gems of Chinese Art from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1983, no. 33. Sherman E. Lee illustrates another example in Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, The Asia Society, New York, 1970, p. 68, no. 57. The example in the Musee Guimet is illustrated by D. Lion-Goldschmidt in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 7, 1981, pl. 151 and colour pl. 22. Y. Mino and J. Robinson illustrate a jar of this type in Beauty and Tranquility: The Ely Lilly Collection of Chinese Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 252-3, pl. 100. An example from the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore is published in Ming Porcelains, China Institute in America, New York, 1970, no. 42.
Large jars with this impressive decoration have also been greatly appreciated in Japan, and examples are found in several Japanese collections, including that of the Idemitsu Collection, illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, 1987, no. 192, and the Matsunaga Kinenkan, illustrated by Ryoichi Fujioka et al., in Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol. 14, Ming, Shogakukan, 1976, p. 75, no. 76. The considerable esteem in which these jars are held was demonstrated in 1992, when a jar of this type from the J.M. Hu Collection was sold at Sotheby's New York 2 December 1992, lot 282 for what was, at that time, a record price for a piece of Chinese porcelain.
Much of the popularity of fish as a decorative theme, especially in later dynasties, hinges on the fact that the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for the word for abundance or surplus (yu) - thus two fish represent doubled abundance and a gold fish (jinyu) symbolises an abundance of gold, or the idea of gold and jade, which represents wealth. Furthermore the word for carp is li which sounds like the word for profit, and thus two or more carp would represent multiple profit. The pronunciation of the word for carp also suggests the Confucian li of moral uprightness. In addition, the carp has another meaning, for it represents the scholar who strives to be successful in his civil service examinations and become a jinshi, and will thus gain a good official position. Legend tells of the carp swimming upstream every spring to the Dragon Gate on the Yellow River. If it succeeds in leaping over the gate, it is transformed into a dragon.