The tradition of raising cricket and cricket fighting was of a long standing. According to the Record of the Tang Dynasty, during the period of Kaiyuan, ladies in palace would catch cricket into small cages and listen to its chirping in autumn to kill the lonely time. In the Song Dynasty, listening to cricket was developed into cricket fighting. It’s said that Emperor Gaozong in the Song Dynasty loved watching cricket fighting and once ordered crickets as tribute, thus there was a busy scene in the capital that every family raised crickets in July and August. Within hundreds of years since then, cricket fighting game was continued in the country.
Qufu was the conventional name of cricket in Old Beijing after its chirping. Ququ’s sound was from the rubbing of its wings while birds twitter from throat. It’s popular in Beijing to raise crickets, no matter adults or children. And nearly all boys in Hutong played with crickets.
Normally children caught crickets during summer holiday, as there was no cricket in midsummer but in late summer or early autumn. If conditions allowed, several children would take tools and catch crickets together in suburb; if not, they could only search among bricks and wall gaps. Children could catch dozens or even a hundred crickets one time in suburb. Big crickets are favored, as they are powerful during fighting. In the past, children all expected to catch crickets of 0.4gram.
Cricket flight field was wide. And to be fair, there was also a judge. Both crickets were put into a pot by the judge and they were attracted together by a special tool made of mouse beard. When both were ready, the tool was taken away and the judge declared the start of the fighting. Both crickets felt with their antenna first and the fighting started immediately once both antennas touched each other. If the rivals matched each other in strength, both would try their best to fight desperately. The stronger could bite away the rival’s leg. Audience would cheer and the scene looked really hot. The winner chirped loudly while shaking wings to show his power while the loser turned back and ran away. Some losers were even chased out of the pot.
It’s a both bitter and sweet experience to raise crickets. Catching cricket, raising cricket and cricket fighting brought fun to Old Beijing people.