A city in China has been crowning the Miss Universe of goldfish for the past four years.
Zibo is particularly proud of its goldfish heritage.
Every year, this city in northern China hosts a goldfish beauty pageant, where hundreds of bubbly-eyed fish compete for the top crown.
The contest has been running for four years, with dozens of participants. This year, 80 enthusiastic breeders entered more than 700 goldfish into the competition.
Goldfish contests are a long-running tradition in China, where the pet is prized for its color and beauty. Another pageant, in southern Fujian Province, has been going for eight years.
Records of goldfish in China date back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420), when people noticed that wild silver carp sometimes came in red, orange, and yellow variations.
They began breeding these rare-colored carp in dedicated ponds, giving rise to the common goldfish we know today.
By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the goldfish had become a symbol of wealth in China. Carp ponds were a common feature in the gardens of well-off families.
At social events, hosts would show off their best fish in small vessels, the predecessor of the goldfish bowl.
Over time, breeders continued to raise new variations, resulting in more than 200 goldfish varieties today.
What makes a prize-winning goldfish?
At the Zibo pageant, breeds are divided into five main groups: common, oranda, telescope, egg fish, and dragon-back goldfish.
“Because goldfish come in a variety of colors,” says Xu Guantong, a goldfish judge. “Every breed has a different quality and breeding standard.”
This year’s top prize went to a two-year-old oranda owned by Li Mingliang, a goldfish breeder in Jinan, Shandong Province.
So how does one judge a goldfish? Xu looks for the telltale signs of a well-raised fish: whether it’s big or small, how it swims, and its “expressiveness.”
“Because the fish is alive,” Xu says. “It’s not a static thing. Its beauty can only be revealed by swimming.”
Xu says this year’s winner was particularly active in the water. Its owner, Li, says the fish has developed a reflex since he began raising it.
“When you walk over to the tank, it swims to you,” he says. “It gets used to you.
And how much does a champion goldfish cost? A prize winner can fetch a high price. One shop in London sold an oranda for upwards of $8,000.
But Li says he can’t put a price on his treasured pet.
“It just matters how much you love this fish,” he says. “If you like it, you know the value in your heart. If you don’t like it, it’s not worth anything.”