Also known as the Chinese High Fin Banded Shark or Hifin Loach, normally possess brown bodies bearing three dark-colored slanting bands. During the breeding season, adult males are distinguished from adult females by their red coloration. Adult females are of dark purple color with a broad and vertical reddish area along the body. Juveniles of the Chinese high-fin banded sharks are also characterized by high and triangular dorsal finnage that extends up to the rear of the anal fin. The adult appearance is far less distinctive, as they are elongated in shape without the very high dorsal fin. The thick and fleshy lips bear small papillae without barbels. They have a single row of pharyngeal teeth that have comb-like arrangements.
Through adulthood, Chinese high-fin banded sharks become darker in appearance. The characteristic pale bands found in young specimens disappear at a length of 30–36 cm (12–14 in), and the species has been referred to as an "ugly duckling in reverse". The growth is fast; it typically reaches a length of about 20 cm (8 in) in its first year and 50 cm (1 ft 8 in) by an age of three. Sexual maturity is reached when five to six years old and at least 60 cm (2 ft) long. The maximum size reached by this fish is 1.35 m (4 ft 5 in) in length and 40 kg (88 lb) in weight.