The Chinese idiom 如魚得水 (rú yú dé shuǐ), literally “like a fish that has found water,” is a metaphor that describes finding an acquaintance whose disposition, interests, or outlook is highly similar to one’s own, or being in a very suitable or agreeable environment.
The idiom originated from a story about famous strategist Zhuge Liang (also named Kong Ming) and his lord Liu Bei in the historical text “Records of the Three Kingdoms,” which covers the history of China’s late Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 184–220) and Three Kingdoms Period (A.D. 220–280).
The late Eastern Han Dynasty saw three decades of civil war when the Han empire was fractured into regional powers controlled by various warlords.
The ambitious warlord Liu Bei knew that if he wished to expand his political and military power, it was necessary to recruit the help of capable individuals.
Liu had heard that Zhuge Liang was a talented strategist and a man of great wisdom and skill. With sincere determination, Liu paid three visits to Zhuge Liang’s home before having an opportunity to meet with him. Zhuge Liang was moved by Liu’s sincerity and agreed to assist him.
Under Zhuge Liang’s direction, Liu’s power greatly expanded, and the good relationship between the two men became better and better. However, this displeased Liu’s two closest comrades, who grumbled about it.
In response, Liu said, “Having found Kong Ming, I am as happy as a fish that has found water. I hope that you will no longer speak these words.”
Zhuge Liang was instrumental in the rise of Liu Bei, who later founded the Shu Han Kingdom during China’s Three Kingdoms Period.
The idiom “like a fish that has found water” originally referred to good rapport between a monarch and a minister. Later, it came to be used to describe a harmonious relationship between close friends or between a husband and wife.
The phrase also conveys the meaning of having an environment conducive to growth and development.