Photographers' Blog

Little gladiators: China’s cricket fighting

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

On a late summer day in Beijing while roaming through the narrow alleyways of an old pet market I heard the chirping of insects. It was such a refreshing sound on a stiflingly hot day. At one point, the chirping grew louder and louder, and my curiosity led me into one alley. There, I found countless little insects in bird cages and small jars on sale and waiting for their new owners.

According to a cricket expert, keeping crickets as singing pets is an old Chinese tradition which dates back more than 3,200 years. Unlike in some countries, where people treat crickets with disdain and repel them with bug spray, in China the chirping of crickets traditionally has been regarded as beautiful music. Even more interesting than the singing crickets in small cages was the men observing hundreds of small jars with very serious faces.

The creatures in these small jars were small brown crickets, and the men were looking for little gladiators to bring them the glory of victory in cricket fights. Cricket fight lovers claim that this sport has more than 1,000 years of history in China and that there are many Chinese who still enjoy this ancient tradition every year in August through October.

GALLERY: CRICKET FIGHTING COMPETITION

Cricket fighting sounds like kid’s stuff, but this is really a serious sport for those who spend a lot of time and money to care for and train the creatures. Cricket fighting begins with breeding and training. Serious trainers often purchase more than a dozen at a time hoping to find champion fighters.

Only male crickets which are raised in the wild can be chosen to fight in the transparent oval-shaped rings and ones from Shandong Province are regarded as the best fighting breed. Prices of crickets vary. Usually they go for 10-50 RMB ($1.50 to $8). One vendor I met in the market said the most expensive one he sold this season was 1,000 RMB (about $160). I also heard from a cricket fighting expert that a selling price of more than 10,000 RMB ($1,635) is not rare in the illegal underground cricket fight gambling market where it is said that 1,000,000 RMB ($163,000) is often bet.

Flies and politics

It took villagers in Guatemala’s El Aguacate 25 years of living with clouds of flies on the streets, in their homes, on their faces and on their food, before they decided to act. According to them, the source is the Rosanda 2 chicken farm that began to operate in the entrance to their village the same year the flies appeared. After just my first hour in the village, I too was repulsed by the sensation of the hundreds of flies that crashed into me.

Residents speak with rage and impotence of the flies, which they blame for sickness and even death. Even to a casual visitor it quickly becomes incomprehensible how economic interests supersede the health of a population, and how it’s easier to accept rising infant mortality rather than enforce basic sanitary rules on the farm. It’s especially puzzling now during election season when at each political rally and written on each street poster are promises of improvements for society.

It was a radio news story about a group of armed men standing guard at the entrance to the village that brought me to El Aguacate for the first time. My first photo was probably my favorite of all I had taken in the few weeks since moving to the country; a man who looked both surprised and ashamed wore an old clown’s mask and thick gloves, while patrolling with a rusty shotgun.