Classic clash of the crickets

Updated: 2013-10-07 00:13

By XU JUNQIAN in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Classic clash of the crickets

A cricket caught on Shanghai's Chongming Island has molted eight times, which owner Gu said is rare..[Photos by Gao Erqiang]

The system for cricket fighting is complex and methodical, strictly following the rules from ancient times. Tips to raise a winner are usually passed by word of mouth between fathers and sons. Some of them are even turned into folk adages to help remember.

"Those who chirp loudest fight hardest" is one that teaches green hands how to pick a winner.

Liu, the cricket seller, claimed that his specimens mostly come from Shandong province, where the environment breeds a particularly aggressive type. They are handled by middlemen who bring them to major cities for sale.

But senior players like Gu prefer to venture into the remote country themselves, sleeping by day and catching crickets at night in cornfields with the aid of a flashlight.

In Yanjin, Henan province, an entire village is dedicated to the business of catching crickets during the season. It offers services including bed and breakfast and "guides to cricket searching".

"It's getting ever-harder to find a good specimen, so we have to travel further and further," said Gu, blaming urbanization and pollution as the two main cricket killers. He mourns "the old days when a good one could be easily found outside the city walls".

"In the past, an average cricket could fight for at least seven rounds, but now three rounds are enough to exhaust most contenders," he said.

Enthusiasm for the game has also pushed up the price of cricket jars as an investment like antique vases and paintings.

Experts believe the most precious existing clay pots date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). At an art auction in 2004 in Xiamen, Fujian province, a blue-and-white Ming porcelain cricket pot fetched 2 million yuan.

For some aficionados — well aware of the saying that the insects are kept for one autumn, while the pot for a whole life — lavish tens of thousands of yuan on a vessel handmade by "masters" in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. It shows the prestige of both the bugs and their patrons.

"The price (of the pot) has been escalating, just like our houses," said an insect peddler surnamed Xue at the flower and bird market in Shanghai. He said two years ago, he invested 3,000 yuan on a jar he found at a fair in Suzhou and has since been offered twice the price for the palm-sized pot.

Is it all worth it?

"You have to do something to pass the time living in your apartment," said Xue.

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