Chirps and Cheers: China’s Crickets Clash

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs explores a renaissance in the traditional Chinese pastime of cricket fighting, following its prohibition during the Cultural Revolution.

One Beijing taxi driver compared his passion for cricket duels to a Spaniard’s love of bullfighting. “The main difference is that cricket fighting is much less dangerous,” he said. (Insect-rights advocates take note: Combat seldom causes injuries, save for the occasional severed antennae, and losers are generally tossed onto the sidewalk and allowed to roam free until a November frost, or a pedestrian’s foot, puts an end to their chirping.)

There is, though, a nefarious side to the cricket craze: illegal back-room matches that draw legions of gamblers. In late September, the police in Jiangsu Province raided one such parlor, arresting 79 people and seizing 100 prized fighters. According to the police, cricket owners would bet 10,000 renminbi, or nearly $1,600, on each bout. Wagers by spectators exceeded 100,000 renminbi ….

Even if digital scales are now used to sort fighters into weight classes separated by one-hundredth of a gram, cricket trainers still follow many of the rules and recommendations laid out in a 13th century how-to guide written by Jia Sidao, the Southern Song prime minister whose obsession with crickets supposedly led to the dissolution of the empire.