Cricket fighting has been popular in China for thousands of years, and with the country in full economic boom, fans of the “sport” are investing more money into it than ever before. One town in particular has built an entire industry around the genetically-superior crickets living in the surrounding fields, and for good reason, as the best specimens can reportedly sell for up to 50,000 yuan ($7,661).
The tradition of cricket fighting can be traced back to the Tang dynasty (618-904), and the crickets found in the fields around the town of Sidian, in China’s Shandong province, have long been renowned for their large size and aggressiveness, both very important features among enthusiasts of the sport. It is said that several of China’s emperors favored Sidian’s crickets for their high win rate, and today’s rich spend absurd amounts of money for exceptional specimens that can give them an edge against their rivals.
In late summer and autumn, the area around Sidian is buzzing both during the day and at night, as the vast majority of townspeople and many others from neighboring villages try to make as much money as possible during the annual cricket market. This involves spending hours each night trying to catch the elusive insects, an activity that 80% of Sidian engages in every year, but also training them into able fighters to increase their price, brokering transactions, and even operating hotels for cricket buyers traveling to the market from all over China. Almost every household in town is involved in the cricket business in one way or another.
Sidian hosts the largest cricket market in northern China, and the most skilled families of cricket catchers can make upwards of 100,000 yuan ($15,300) in the month of August alone. based on several criteria, the price of crickets varies from under a dollar, to several hundred dollars, and even thousands.
This year, a farmer from Sidian’s Caojia Village reportedly sold a cricket for 15,000 yuan ($2,300), while some speculate that the highest price tag of the season has been 50,000 yuan ($7,661) for a single insect. A 2014 article by Chinahush mentioned a rumor that the most expensive cricket ever sold in Sidian village cost 300,000 yuan ($46,000).
Cricket fighting has seen a resurgence as a true Chinese tradition, and Sidian town has been reaping the benefits. Even locals who spend most of the year working in bigger cities and those who have relocated completely return for the cricket market every year, knowing that they will make a sizable profit.
Cities like Shanghai also supplement the number of coaches traveling to and from Sidian around the time of the cricket market, and the buses always return with their baggage compartments full of boxes of crickets. The cricket trade in Sidian has become so lucrative in the last few years that the number of insects living in the calcareous brown soil around the town has been dwindling.
Chinese media and several environmentalists have tried to raise awareness about the decreasing number of crickets in Sidian, but in the face of people’d desire for profit, they have been all but powerless.