Cricket culture in China.

A few words on the tradition of bringing singing crickets into the house, thusly prolonging their lives in captivity and thereby enableing the enjoyment of the soothing sound of their singing well into deep winter.

During many centuries it has been a tradition to capture and keep crickets in cages and take them indoors protecting them from the oncoming cold and to prolong their life and to enjoy their soothing and restful singing way after they otherwise would have long perished in nature. In this fashion it has been possible to listen to the calming sound all through the winter and to create the impression of a peaceful summer meadow indoors away from the bustlling noice from streets of the city, often a long way into spring.

The keeping of singing insects has often been advocated by painters, calligraphers, musicians, operasingers and other artists.They were of the opinion that through constant listening to crickets it was possible, even in old age, to keep active ones hearing in the register that the crickets were stridulating. They were also of the opinion that listening to crickets would promote creativity and keep the mind youthful and thus improving both temperament and health.

The tradition existed for all ages and in all social walks of life. From the children that kept katydids in small cages like miniture birdcages, to the affluent collectors of art and curio with their unglaced earthenware or cultivated calebashfruites grown into strict shapes regulated by intricate moulds, decorated with covers of ivory or precious carved and ornamented wood with lids of tortoiseshell and coconut and mother of pearl. And these cages in their turn kept in the most precious little sachels and bags of brocade silk and silkpadded embroidered textile fabrics, matching their lifestyle in opulence.

The later in the year that one could enjoy the singing of crickets the better and the crickets sold in the cold of the winter especially during the chinese new year (chunjie) would catch such enormous sums to change owner that only the very wealthy could consider a purchase.

The cages that the crickets were kept in were most elaborate not only in shape material and form and just to give an indication of the specialization there was a demand big enough to for skilled craftsmen making a living just preparing the thin delicate earthen floor that the crickets would stand on guaranteeing that their feet would not be damp and wet and protect them from mould and disease. There were feedingbowls and trays of the best porcelain, small beds with removable lids. The ways of keeping various crickets were indeed many and the cages and containers varied in price from almost free at the purchase of the cricket to extreeme crafted pieces of art made by the best artisans for prices many times exceeding most of the common peoples yearly incomes.

Antique containers and jars are also today highly valued collectors items and sold at continously rising prices. A jar of unglaced earthenware from the middle of the 19th century made by the right craftsman for instance Zhao Ziyu can despite its most humble and grey appearance collect prices of more than 30-40.000 RMB.

Niehaizhai Laoren, fall 2005.