Human Interest

Mascots, musicians and gladiators: crickets in China in 2021

By Javier Triana

Beijing, Sep 21 (EFE).- A cricket throws its opponent through the air and falls belly up a few centimeters away. The men who surround the “ring” let out a cry of admiration, except for one, who smiles resignedly and leaves a bundle of bills on the table: the arthropod he bet on has lost the fight.

The secretive event has all the classic movie elements: tobacco smoke, banknotes easily changing hands, locked doors once the fights start, drawn curtains and secrecy about the location.

And the risk, since Article 303 of the Chinese penal code punishes gambling and its establishments with three years in prison and up to 10 years “in serious circumstances.”

“That boy has made more than 100,000 yuan ($ 15,450) from his crickets this season,” said one participant, pointing to a plump young man. A few well-trained crickets can yield a tasty bonus.

In China, the passion for these insects comes from afar, although no one can specify a date. Some date back to the Tang dynasty (618 -907 AD); others claim this animal pastime already existed a couple of millennia earlier.

But the are only one of the possible joys the Chinese take out of these animals, especially now that their availability – through artificial breeding in cricket farms – is not limited to summer, the time in which they are born.

“Having a cricket (in China) means giving yourself the great, old and refined happiness of hearing that warm and surprising spring voice in the middle of winter, while everything around is cold, the wind blows or snows,” wrote Italian correspondent Tiziano Terzani in the early 1980s in his book “La Porta Proibita”.

“Winter is the peak season every year,” said a lady who goes by Liu, in front of a traditional shop in the Guanyuan Beijing market. “The hustle and bustle will continue until the Chinese New Year (between January and February). After this, the peak season ends.”

At Guanyuan Market, all you have to do is use your ear to find the cricket shops: the friction of the wings of cicadas, grasshoppers and other male arthropods fills the aisles of the shopping center, which was once a riot of stalls in a neighboring street.

A string of spherical bamboo cages serves as a visual attraction at the entrance of the shops, in case the animal music was not enough. There are also wooden, plastic, clay, pumpkin cages molded to suit the consumer.

The grasshoppers with a completely green body, enclosed in plastic cages of the same color, in addition to “being prettier,” argues a saleswoman, will live longer. And in commercial logic, this makes them more expensive: exactly, 10 yuan more than their multicolored pairs (for sale in bamboo cages for 20 yuan).

Liu said the business is more in the pumpkin cages, molded and sculpted at will and are a precious art, more so now that the economy has grown and that many young Chinese people are interested in knowing more in depth some traditions of ancient Chinese culture. EFE


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