The majority of today's cricket culture is aboveground, though - and accepted in society. There are even some cities, like Jinan, where fights are broadcast live on television. And Chongming Island, off the coast of Shanghai, hosts a six-day national cricket-fighting competition, drawing hundreds of fans and their combative insects from all over the country.
Beijing's Chinese Culture Club also sponsors cricket matches. Mariel Escudero and Sonia Dupont, expats who live in the city and work on the Latin American website GRILA.net (Grupo de Residentes Ibero Latino Americano), recently attended a cricket lecture and workshop at Beijing's culture center, which provides English-language services for non-Chinese residents. The class culminated in cricket bouts for all participants. "I found it fascinating," Escudero tells me. So fascinating, in fact, that she and Dupont collaborated on an article about it for their website and even posted a fight video on YouTube.
It's said that there are as many as 900 species of crickets in the world, and the Chinese cricket culture includes a number of variants.
The best singing crickets are said to possess thick wings with wide veins. (Only mature males make the chirping noise, produced by rubbing their forewings together.) A cricket can create as many as five distinct calls, including an after-mating sound and sounds that signify courtship or attack. Some insect keepers will alter the wings of their favorite crickets, applying a tiny amount of wax (at the correct temperature) to amplify the sounds.
Chirping has been calibrated in certain species to be able to actually calculate the temperature of their environment, which is known as Dolbear's Law. (Depending on the species, a rough method is to count the number of times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds and then add 38; the sum should equal the correct temperature in Fahrenheit.)
For fighting, the Gryllus bimaculatus is favored for its aggressive nature, thick body, and length of up to one and a half inches. Found throughout Asia, Africa, and southern Europe, this cricket is considered the best chirper of all the species; it has a strong, clean sound, which adds more excitement to the fight.
Like a boxer or a wrestler, a fighting cricket undergoes training and medical care. Keepers observe their crickets' behavior carefully, watching for signs of disease and extremes in temperature, which can injure them. Their strict dietary regime ranges from flies and blood-filled mosquitoes to boiled chestnuts, ginseng, and calcium tablets. Some keepers prefer to feed the insects corn, wheat flour, and sliced apple. Training might include putting a female in the jar with the male, to create agitation and aggression. Other keepers will have the fighter fast prior to a match, and as soon as the cricket starts acting sick, they'll quickly feed it small red insects to rebuild its strength. There are no instances in modern cricket fighting of the use of illegal steroids. Not yet, anyway.