Cricket King: Enduring the Sounds of Battle

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“Chirp. Chirp, chirp.” The cacophony of crickets is heard after pushing the rusty knocker of a black wooden door. Stepping through a doorway to hear the summer noise of the outdoors is not extraordinary. However, this noise meets all who enter the mottled ancestral house of Luo Huiming in Shicong village, Hengli Town, where hundreds of green china pots cage lively crickets lined up under the lightless tiled roof.

This is Luo’s cricket breeding nerve center. The 85-year-old man dressed in a white shirt, with a red rope belting his pants, raises and trains the naturally territorial insects for the ancient Chinese art of cricket fighting. It is a valid craft to some, paltry entertainment to others, but for our hero, it has been a lifelong obsession of pride and champion success.

Since he was 16, Luo has been in love with cricket fighting. Each year, training the crickets and entering them in fights around the village has been his pastime, and he has won numerous prizes in some contests, judging from the flags emblazoned with Chinese that read, “A Hundred Battles, A Hundred Victories,” or “Ever Victorious General.”

To illustrate the process for HERE!, Luo placed two large crickets into a wooden cask bucket used as a miniature coliseum.

“The greatest amount of crickets I ever raised in a year was over eight hundred, and it was just five years ago, in 2008,” said Luo. Due to the limited life expectancy of crickets (around 100- 200 days), Luo will have to catch crickets each spring, raise and train them during the summer and pull the most powerful ones out of the cage in the fall for the peak contest season, a process that is seeing a resurgence in popularity.

In China, cricket fighting can be dated back one thousand years. In the 13th century during the Song Dynasty, the first book on cricket fighting, Cu Zhi Jing, was published by a then prime minister Jia Sidao, also a big fan. Traditionally a gambling sport, people involved have found plenty of skills for training a cricket into furious “fighters.”

To illustrate the process for HERE!, Luo placed two large crickets into a wooden cask bucket used as a miniature coliseum. When the males met, posturing ensued to claim territory with the crickets rubbing their hind quarters together and circling each other as if sizing each other up.

Luo then picked up a mouse-hair brush prod, rubbing their antennae to escalate the battle. “See this little prod, don’t judge it by its size. It cost me 100 RMB when I bought it in Hong Kong,” he said. “I use green tea to scent it. You can’t touch it, because it will ruin the smell that irritates the crickets.” Clearly he has nearly seventy years of experience in this field. He introduced every move like an expert.

This specially-scented prod seems quite effective in stimulating the cricket’s aggressiveness. Now the angry crickets try to use their jaws to knock down the opponent. They jostle, butt heads and bite and twist into death rolls. The yelling sound gets louder when the battles get more intense, showing their ambition to win. Finally, they try to wrestle with power. After several minutes, the one who loses slinks away in dejection, not daring to confront the opponent any more, while the winner blasts out a jubilant upbeat voice. The winner of the fierce battle will be rewarded with food, while the loser is set free. “Once defeated, the cricket will be timid,” said Luo.

Luo Huiming proudly displays some of his cricket fighting accoutrements. In his right hand is a carefully guarded cricket prod, in his left, a bamboo cylinder used to introduce the crickets into a fight. The bottle caps serve as feeding dishes and the ashtray is for his cigarette butts. as feeding dishes and the ashtray is for his cigarette butts.

Luo Huiming proudly displays some of his cricket fighting accoutrements. In his right hand is a carefully guarded cricket prod, in his left, a bamboo cylinder used to introduce the crickets into a fight. The bottle caps serve as feeding dishes and the ashtray is for his cigarette butts.
as feeding dishes and the ashtray is for his cigarette butts.

That is the normal training process. Luo’s aim is to seek several “iron soldiers” out of the hundreds put through the process of trial and elimination. He also has a special formula for his soldiers. The daily food for all crickets is made of lotus seeds, sweet potato, and grain or corn powder. Winners eat food with extra shrimp powder and drink ginseng water. “Nutrition is necessary for them to grow bigger and stronger, and I found out these foods contain some helpful elements in strengthening their ‘masculinity,’” He said, reluctant to share the secret.

Hunting crickets also has some techniques. “Crickets inhabiting steep mountains, wild forest or rigid caves will be more energetic,” Luo said. To get the best crickets, which are revealed by shape, color and species, Luo traverses the entire region. “I once had a cricket that won 12 times in a row. That most powerful cricket was hunted from Luofu Mountain, Huizhou City.” With a shoulder pole and a little bamboo container, Luo treks into deep forests and mountains at midnight. With sharp ears to ‘radar’ the location of the chirping male crickets, Luo then uses his pole to strike the grasses, removes the thorns away and quickly catches the prey.

Luo put a lot of effort in summarizing and improving the skills for cricket fighting. “I never went to school,” he said. “When I was 16, I was still an illiterate cow herder. While grazing cattle, I had quite a lot of fun when I figured out how to hunt crickets and train them for fights. Since then, it has become an indispensable part of my life.” Luo recalled the time when he got amused with crickets as playing companions.

In China, cricket fighting has a long history. This mania fades in wartime and depression; however, when the economy rises up, some people resume this interest. Last year, Beijing held the first National cricket fighting tournament. The heat also spread to many other cities. In Dongguan, cricket fighting usually takes place on some informal occasions. For instance, when some enthusiasts gather under a banyan tree, they would play for a few rounds. People would bet for twenty to thirty yuan for one round.

Luo said that there are also some formal contests held by cricket fighting enthusiasts once in a while, where Luo has won lots of prizes from those contests. Normally enthusiasts are some aged people. “Young people have their own games. Raising a cricket is not an easy job,” he said. But Luo still thinks that cricket fighting is undergoing a revival, and he hopes that it will attract more youngsters to join.

He said he will occasionally go to Dongkeng, Dalang or Guancheng to participate in some games, where gatherings of cricket fighting fans are plentiful. Some people with money will play this game in clubs. “I have never played this game in a club. I don’t know about the places,” Luo said. Luo said that he was not a gambler, but a good hunter and coach. When the ‘soldiers’ bring the victory, Luo enjoys the process more than earning money. He will rent his crickets to pals, one for RMB 200.

“If you are fond of cricket fighting in Dongguan, you must have heard about him. He is no doubt the oldest and the most experienced coach in this circle. His crickets always win,” said one of Luo’s fans, Liu Weimin, who happened to stop by to point out that Luo is an award-winning cricket coach.