China’s cricket catchers cashing in on insects that can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee

Ancient sport’s links to underground gambling mean prizefighters can change hands for huge sums of money

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 2:24pm

An annual cricket craze is sweeping a rural area of east China as demand for the leaping insects soars among “trainers” who use them for fighting and gambling, online media reported.

Throughout the breeding season of August and September, hundreds of people in Linqing, Shandong province, flock to the fields every night to hunt for the chirping beasts, which they later sell, Thepaper.cn reported on Tuesday.

Those who train the creatures for prizefights are prepared to pay big money for the chance to get their hands on the insect world’s equivalent to Floyd Mayweather.

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“I catch crickets and can make 40,000 yuan (US$6,000) to 50,000 yuan over the two months,” Li Dong, whose day job is running a small food stall, was quoted as saying.

“That’s more than my yearly income from selling breakfast snacks,” he said.

Li heads out into the corn fields each night armed with a flashlight and a handful of small traps in which to keep his quarry. He said he can tell which are the strongest – and hence worth the most money – by listening to the distinctive sounds they make.

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On a typical night Li catches about 20 crickets, which he sells the following day on WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, the report said.

He said that most of the insects sell for just tens of yuan, but the most money he ever received for one was 8,000 yuan.

Zhao Wenge, Li’s friend, was quoted as saying that local people traditionally compared crickets to cows because of their high value. But today, because demand is so high, they compare them to gold.

“A good cricket can sell for up to 10,000 yuan. They are priced by weight, like gold, but can be more valuable than gold,” he said.

While journeyman crickets are sold only by weight, potential champion fighters carry a premium and are assessed more in terms of their overall physique and appearance.

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Another Linqing local, identified only by his surname Ma, said he once bought a cricket from another catcher for 10 yuan knowing it was worth much more.

“I sold it to a Hangzhou businessman for several thousand yuan,” he said. “He then took it to a gambling house in Nanjing and won 3.6 million yuan.”

Although gambling is banned across China’s mainland, cricket fighting is legal and has a history dating back to the Tang dynasty (618-907).

While the activity was suppressed under Mao Zedong’s rule as an “outdated culture”, it had a resurgence in the 1980s as China began its opening up.