Remember how I teased about the Fighting Crickets when I did the Hutong tour? Well, here you get the details!
Not going to lie, this was the biggest pull for me to do the Hutong tour. I had read the description as I was skimming through possible tours, and I came to a full halt going “Wait, what?? FIGHTING CRICKETS?? WHAT?” I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to manage it, but the people at the tour company were incredibly kind and worked with me, going so far as to pick me up at the airport.
(If you’re ever in Beijing, I highly recommend you take this Tour. You can find the details here)
Oddly, there is a long tradition of cricket fighting in China, tracing back centuries. As in there is evidence going back a good thousand years to the Tang Dynasty. Yeah, this made my eyes cross, too. Trainers from all over would raise their crickets, feeding them, getting them as large as possible, then come together for battles. Think dog or cock fighting, only with, you know… bug.
And it was EMPERORS who started it!!! Emperors became fascinated with this pastime, and it trickled down to the nobility around them. It didn’t become popular with commoners until much later (they were likely as confused as I was when I first heard about it).
Seriously, guys, I could not make this up.
Mr. Liu has been doing this for decades, and he had a stack of magazines to prove it, many of which were Western periodicals.
The fellow was incredibly charming, but didn’t speak a lick of English. That’s fine, that’s why I had a translator with me (the same lovely person who gave me the Hutong tour).
Man, I never thought I’d be having this particular conversation…
So below are the tools of the trade for all cricket trainers. Most of the sticks had feathers on the ends so you wouldn’t injure the insects while you raised them. The whole point was to grow them as large as possible so they can overpower their opponents. The trainer would tease them with feathers so that they got used to waving their legs around and ‘smacking’ things away.
You see the long black boxes at the top part of the table? Yeah, those are exactly what they appear to be – cricket-coffins. The fighters were honored (thought the small ones were fed to the birds Mr. Liu kept outside). The better the fighter, the more grandiose the coffin once it passed.
Remember how in Disney’s Mulan, Mulan kept a cricket on her? Yeah, that was really a thing, and not just for luck – in part for cricket fighting. I suppose, you never knew when you would get challenged and need to throw down.
Crickets would be kept on the trainers/owners, often in cylinders as you see below. They would be kept in the large, baggy sleeves of, always on hand.
Did you know there were different varities of crickets, too? And these things could get huge. Below, you also see pictured a mountain and a plain cricket, and you can see how large they are. He called these two his emperors, his champions.
For the big ‘battles,’ you’d put both of your crickets in a bowl similar to below and let them battle it out until there was one clear victor. If the crickets sat there and stared at each other (as they were often want to do), you’d agitate them with a feather until they reacted.
Mr. Liu was very, very proud of these little beasties – he treated them like pets. And while he was kind enough to offer to let one crawl over my face, I had to pass… Sorry, while I’m not normally all that squeamish, and I was absolutely willing to HOLD one, I was NOT willing to let it crawl on my face…
Yeah, he got a good cackle out of that one…