The cricket culture in China dates back 2000 years and encompasses singing insects and fighting crickets. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.) the crickets were respected for their powerful ability to “sing”. It was during this time that they started being captured and kept in cages so their songs could be heard all the time. In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D), cricket fighting flourished as a popular sport.
In the fighting season of autumn, the little warrior is the center of attention of thousands of Chinese. Talk to a cricket lover and he will launch into an excited recital of the pleasure his little pets give him. The fans come from all walks of life and are virtually all male. Excited by the prospects of some thrilling fights, they arrive at the arena, carrying their insect protégés in small boxes.
Crickets can be very aggressive. Whenever two of them meet in a confined space, a fight breaks out. The fights take place on a table which is covered by a piece of rough paper and surrounded by glass. The duel is short and fierce.
The contest ends when one cricket is hurt or gives up and backs away. The winner then performs a unique ritual. It chirps loudly, fluttering its beautiful gossamer-like wings. The poor loser, and perhaps its human trainer, hangs its head and limps slowly away.
Cricket fighting was so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shidao who reigned as a prime minister from 1213 to 1275. However, he was accused of not managing his responsibilities because he was obsessed with the cricket-fighting cult. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuanzong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this insect. Literally thousands of crickets were sent to the capital every year to discover their financial fate. Amazingly, there are hundreds of documented stories of people committing suicide because of a losing or injured cricket.
Because people enjoyed the excitement of placing bets on their favorite fighters, the government tried to clamp down on cricket fighting. But traditions die hard and cricket fighting is making a comeback with a chirp of victory.