Just cricket
By Xiao Changyan(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-11 10:05

Listening to the chirping and singing of crickets and grasshoppers in the summer is a favourite hobby and old tradition of Beijingers.

Raising crickets can even be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) when people began keeping the insects in their homes. By the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), it had become a scholarly pastime. There were many writings describing the different varieties of crickets and how to care for them.

Today, there are many insect markets in Beijing that sell various singing insects. The best selling grasshoppers and crickets are the Huang Ling (Small Golden Bell, Anaxipha pallidula), Mo Ling (Inky Bell, Homeoxipha lycoides) and Hua Jing (Painted Bell, Gryllus bimaculatus).

Though the average price of such an insect katydid is about 4 yuan (50 US cents) for one, some rare ones are expensive and their prices can even reach several hundred yuan apiece. According to peddlers, the best cricket sold in the city is from the Western Hills in Beijing. Unlike the usual green grasshoppers, these insects are big and black and called the "iron katydid." They usually sing much louder and live longer than other types.

Most of the crickets and grasshoppers on the market are from North China's Hebei Province.

Not only is there a market for insects, but also for the containers that hold them. There are various kinds of containers, such as pots, cages, cases, tubes and gourds.

The best pots are made of special clay, and are said to have been put in a silk bag and soaked in water for several years. Such pots have a smooth look resembling jade and often come with hollow covers for better sound transmission. Such containers are often used to raise fighting crickets.

Make sure if you buy a new pot you soak it in tea water for several days to remove the kiln smell.

While large singing insects are often contained in cages made from bamboo, wheat stem or reed, ceramic is said to be the best containers in the summer, while in winter, crickets are often kept in gourd containers to keep them warm. Gourd containers can usually sell for several hundred yuan due to the delicate engraved patterns and jade covers.

(China Daily 08/10/2006 page17)