The cricket is a member of the orthoptera insect family. This is the same family that similar insects such as katydids, cicadas and grasshoppers belong to. In the United States, we treat crickets with disdain, getting out the bug spray when they chirp. In China, however, cricket chirps are considered music. The cricket is revered and treated with respect there, and it has been this way for more than 2,000 years.
Cricket History in China
Crickets are mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 1000 B.C., an article in the “Shanghai Daily” notes. But until the start of the Tang Dynasty in A.D. 618, crickets were only appreciated for their singing capabilities, writes Jin Xing-Bao of the Shanghai Institute of Entomology. Jin, who wrote a book on cricket culture, says, starting in the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese began keeping crickets in cages in their homes to provide more opportunity to hear them singing. Only male crickets sing.
If you watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor,” you saw the importance of crickets to the imperial family. Early in the movie, the young emperor Pu Yi is walking through men kowtowing at a courtyard in the Forbidden City when he hears a cricket chirping. He seeks it out; the man who brought the cricket in quickly gives it to China’s last emperor. At the end of the movie, the citizen Pu Yi returns to the throne he once sat on at the Forbidden City. He reaches under it and finds a caged cricket which he then gives to a little boy who is visiting what today is known as the Palace Museum.
Cricket Symbolism: Agriculture
In early China, farmers used crickets as a symbol of the growing season. When crickets appeared each year, it was time to plant crops; when they disappeared in the autumn, it was time to harvest, a synopsis of Jim’s book notes.
Cricket Symbolism: Success
Crickets also are symbolic of success and family size in China. The insects lay hundreds of eggs before dying. Centuries ago, large families were very important to the Chinese, as they were equated with success. To wish someone to have a family like crickets was to wish them success, Jin says.
Cricket Culture: Music
The Chinese believe the crickets make not noise, but beautiful music. Songs have been written around the chirping sounds made by male crickets, the Asianartmall website says in an article about cricket culture.
Other Cricket Symbolism
According to the Chinesepaintings website, the cricket also symbolizes summer as well as courage and a fighting spirit.
Cricket Culture Today
Even in the 21st century, the Chinese still revere crickets. They still buy them in little cages so they can take them home and listen to them sing. China’s major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai even have insect markets where crickets can be purchased. Cricket fighting is as popular today in China as it was centuries ago. Crickets perceived to be good fighters can sell for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars.