Chinese Cricket Culture

No self-respecting Chinese mandarin or would-be upwardly mobile gentleman would be without his fighting cricket or, even, cricket team. Chinese Cricket Culture—the tradition of favoring singing insects and fighting crickets has ancient roots and has been handed down throughout the generations to the present day.


Cricket Culture in China encompasses a 2000 year history of both singing insects and fighting crickets. During the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD), the imperial concubines used small gold cages to accommodate crickets and took them to bed to hear their singing during the night. Ordinary people copied what they saw as a graceful hobby. Although some simply enjoy the insects' beautiful singing, for most cricket fans, fighting is the supreme goal. Under the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD), cricket fighting flourished as a popular sport. Generally speaking, the competition will be finished after a few minutes. But in the case of some resolute and powerful crickets, the contest might last half an hour or even 45 minutes.


A cricket fight in China is as ritualistic as a bullfight is in Spain — and there is equal respect for both of the creatures involved. As has been the tradition for centuries, two crickets are weighed and then matched up according to size, weight, and color. Both combatants are placed in a small fighting arena, with walls high and thick enough to prevent desertion. The cricket trainers stimulate their charges with a straw or a fine-haired brush, and then the insect warriors go at each other, antennae waving and jaws snapping.


As the pastime grew more popular, citizens began sending thousands of their best crickets to the capital each year as gifts for the emperor. Then painters, poets, musicians, and politicians alike followed the emperor’s lead and began to keep crickets as pets, storing them in containers developed specifically for the little song makers — containers that ranged from tiny cages wrought of bamboo and fish bones to clay pots, beautifully carved wooden boxes, and decorative gourds inlaid with ivory and gold. Eventually, cricket societies and clubs grew, encompassing all levels of hobbyists. Thus this appreciation, as with so many other customs throughout the world, began in the palaces but soon spread to the lower classes and to the villages.