Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cricket combat: big (?!) blood sport in China

Crickets: not as in Jiminy Cricket, the famous Disney character. And not as in summer’s singing insects. Try crickets as in fighters -- engaged in a blood sport that goes back more than 1,000 years in China.

Described in a November 6 NYTimes story on the subject --"Chirps and Cheers: China's Crickets Clash" -- crickets have long been a staple of Chinese poetry, painting and storytelling. One emperor even included crickets in his subjects’ tax burden – that’s how valued they were.

Nowadays in China, field crickets are carefully selected, fed and trained to become insect warriors. They’re sold in cricket markets and indulged with “elaborately carved cricket houses [...] and hand-painted ceramic bowls fit for a tiny king.”

Some cricket matches are filmed and projected onto large screens, and illegal back-room fights attract gamblers.

An interest in cricket fighting has been revived among young men who want to return to old Chinese pastimes. Older men, who grew up without toys or TV (imagine!), make up the other main group of cricket fanciers.

The Times story includes details on identifying potential champions and building a warrior. One corn farmer who profits from cricket sales, says “The loudest chirpers are usually the fiercest.”

Two up-sides to cricket fighting: First, injuries are rare in the insect combat. Losers are tossed away and may live happily till the first frost. Second, fighting is illegal, so according to one cricket-fight fan, men “project their emotions onto crickets,” possibly lessening their own aggression.

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