Spain has bullfighting, Americas has cockfighting, over here in China we have equally if not more heavily invested cricket fighting. The age old sport has been celebrated in China for over a thousand years, punctuated only by the Cultural Revolution(1966-1976). Today it is still widely played throughout the country. In fact, cricket fighting has become one of the pillar industries in Ningyang, Shandong Province, generating over 10 million RMB transaction revenue annually. From catching, selling to training and fighting, cricket fighting is a full bloomed gaming business filled with emotional and financial thrills.
Among Ningyang crickets, the ones from Sidian Town are renowned for high winning rate and thus favored even by the Emperor. According to China Cricket Association, Sidian Town boosts calcareous brown soil with the right PH value for growing grain crops, making it the biggest cricket market in North China. In Sidian Town, almost every household is involved in the cricket business ranging from cricket catching, selling to opening hotels for cricket buyers from all over the country.
August announces the high season for cricket transaction. Farmers in Sidian Town are ready to act – more than 80% of them participate in catching cricket. 51 years old Li Xiangui has been catching crickets for over 20 years. If he is diligent enough, he can pocket more than 10,000 RMB (about 1600 USD) just in August. The most skillful household can make up to 100,000 RMB.
The responsibility is well distributed – men catch cricket at night, women sell them during the day. In this cricket market of Sidian Town, mid-aged women dominate the seller stands.
Buyers can come from all corners of the country, but people from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province seem to be more passionate with the bug. Take Hangzhou City as an example, when Ningyang cricket arrive at Hangzhou market, the price can be double or more.
Children here are also enthusiastic about cricket fighting. The boy is describing to his friend how sharp his cricket’s teeth are.
If you think cricket fighting is just for farmers and retires, think again. According to Hangzhou Cricket Association, 3 of its 270 members are presidents of listed companies, and more than 10 are millionaires. As you can see from the photo, luxury cars are not uncommon in the cricket market.
In the cricket market, buyers come here and rent a stand to receive farmers with crickets to sell. In the morning, it is usually seller market, buyers approach farmers as soon as he step in the market; but in the afternoon, the tide changes to buyer market.
Cricket buying is also a technical job where professional equipments apply. For instance, the electronic scale is to detail the weight of each purchase, since crickets can only fight opponents in the same weight range.
Depending on its size and quality, a cricket’s price can vary from a few yuan to couple of thousands. Rumor has it that Sidian Town once sold a cricket for 300,000 RMB (about 4800 USD). The one in the photo was sold for 360 RMB (about 58 USD)
32-year-old Di Shuge has been in the business for 15 years. Starting from catching to today’s collecting and selling, he is a beloved frequent of Sidian Cricket Market. Many farmers present him their best catch. Di Shuge runs a farming workshop in his hometown Dezhou City, during cricket season he would come to Sidian Town to buy cricket and sell them back to Dezhou. Each year he can expect to make 30,000-50,000 RMB broking crickets.
Back to his hotel, Di Shuge immediately open the box to check on his recent conquer. He says if he didn’t come to the town for crickets, he couldn’t have slept nor eaten with ease. “Feels like something’s missing” Says the cricket broker.
Every August and September, Shanghai will increase its long distance coaches to benefit the cricket tourists. Inside the coach are full of boxes of crickets. Sidian Town opens a new way of getting rich for its township as well as residents around. It seems that the media’s urge to protect the decreasing crickets are powerless in the face of market economy and people’s desire for wealth.
Man Guozhi is a truck driver and a senior cricket player with 40 years of experience. Man Guozhi’s home has plenty of china cricket jugs. The photo in his hand is his once favorite general “Red Teeth”, winning him the champion title of the 2004 cricket fighting competition.
In preparing his fighters for the competition, Man Guozhi pays good attention to the feeding and training process. Cricket feeds is a delicate mixture of bean powder, skim milk, liver powder, grains and fish powder etc. The cricket’s living environment is also important, he makes sure the temperature is kept at 25 degree, humid but no water accumulated, and 12 hours exposure to sunlight. Some people even hire professional cricket keeper to maintain their fighters before the game.
During the competition, referee shoulders the responsibility of dividing the crickets into different weight range and assign fighting teams. To get the fight started, players use a long stick to tease the cricket’s antenna to get them to fight.
In November 2005, Beijing City Police ended a cricket gambling group and confiscated all the tools and crickets. The thousand years old game has provided Chinese with immense pleasure, for those who invest in the play, some pride themselves with the winning titles, some harvest high return on their investment. It is truly a game of shrill.