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Norwich Bulletin - 6/13/2010

Blood Sport - Crickets?

If you have seen the movie, The Last Emperor, do you remember the scene in which the Emperor walks into the Forbidden City, takes out a cricket pot from under his chair and passes it to a boy who was watching him? This is the scene that paints the picture of what is known as Chinese Cricket Culture. Ancient roots, handed down through the generations to the present day, brings us the age old traditions of singing insects and fighting crickets.

It was over 2,000 years ago when the Cricket Culture of China began its history of singing and fighting crickets. There are three distinct eras of cricket history. Prior to the Tang dynasty, the people enjoyed the cricket’s tunes. During the Tang dynasty, the people began to keep crickets in cages and to enjoy their songs while the insects lived in captivity. During the Song dynasty, cricket fighting began and flourished as a popular sport that still exists in today’s world.

Yes, I did say cricket fighting. Forget about dog, badger or cock fighting. In China, cricket fighting is still an ancient and honorable sport, even though the Cultural Revolution forced the sport to go underground. But in 1427, the Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong brought his passion for cricket fighting into the palace. Each year, thousands of carefully selected crickets were sent to the capital, where many people’s financial fate were placed in the experience of each individual insect. There is a story about an officer of the local rice-granaries who saw a good cricket and exchanged it for his best horse. He brought the cricket home in a special cricket pot. When he was away, his wife opened the pot to peek at this very special cricket, who immediately jumped out of the pot. His freedom led to an early death as he was eaten by the rooster of the household. The wife was so distraught and scared that she committed suicide. Her husband came home, saw his dead wife and that the cricket was missing, and also took his own life. Such a tragedy over one little bug!

No self respecting Chinese aristocrat would be without his fighting cricket, or, if he was exceptionally wealthy, his cricket team. These little fighters from the order Orthoptera, are naturally aggressive and can easily be provoked into fighting for the pleasure of the crowd and owners. Ownership is very important in the Cricket Culture. After all, if you are particularly rich, you could demonstrate your wealth by buying your crickets in the marketplace. And there are crickets that command a price as high as $1,200 American! In fact, in 1999, a cricket called “King of the Insects” was priced at $12,000 American!! No kidding.

But the average price of a normal, decent fighting cricket is about $24 00 American and a mid-expensive one ranges from $180 to $600. Yes, that is a lot of money to pay for a bug that will probably be dead after its first fight.

Anyway, once you have ownership, then you have the pleasure of owning the song that your particular cricket makes. Many Chinese businessmen have said they would rather share their bed with their crickets instead of their wives – how sad is that? But, the main pleasure, of course, is the fight itself – spiced up by gambling on the winner.

This is a sport that all sections of society can participate in as long as everyone stays in their proper station, of course. And that goes only for the men since the women are expected to stay out of the public eye. Between that and the whole cricket fighting thing, I don’t think I would be especially popular in China.

Crickets themselves are solitary creatures that live underground. When they reach maturity, they will mate. If two male crickets end up in the same place, they will fight each other to the death. Although only the males fight, cricket dealers will also sell females to accompany the males to make them fight more fiercely. A cricket has seven stages before it is ready to mature, but once mature, they are ready to fight.

Before the two crickets are placed into the fighting box, they are carefully weighed and then prodded with stocks of grass to compel them to fight. Sometimes they will throw in a female cricket to make the stakes higher for the winning cricket. Unfortunately, the males get so involved, that oftentimes they just kill the female too. The fighting begins. The crickets are true warriors according to the Chinese. They will bite each other with their powerful jaws, biting off each others legs. But as long as they can still move, they will fight. The competition is over when one of the crickets gives up or dies first. Fighting time is anywhere from ten minutes up to forty-five minutes if you have especially intelligent crickets who stay out of each other’s way.

The home town of the cricket is particularly important as the “cricket experts” agree that the best fighters come from certain areas, such as Pudong. And the experts can tell where the cricket is from. The seller must be very careful because if he tries to pass off a common or garden cricket for a Pudong fighting champion, the punishment is death.

Cricket fighting is serious business in China and it is very much part of their culture, like bullfighting is to Spain. I just believe that the sport should stay in China and there should be heavy fines when cricket fighting rings are uncovered here in the United States.

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