Friday, March 6, 2015

Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China

Berthold Laufer - Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China (1927)

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The next in the Laufer series is this look at cricket musicians and fighters.  This isn't an entirely unknown topic (some experimental musicians have based work on insect sounds) but probably not familiar in any definite way.  "Corresponding for their fondness for crickets, the Chinese have developed a special literature on the subject."  Laufer then describes the development of this fondness and the poetry devoted to it, almost making it sound like the cricket is to Chinese poets as the nightingale is to English-language ones.  He describes the various containers as well as "cricket ticklers" (the second page below) which are "for inciting crickets to sing or fight".  The last half is about how crickets fight ("not so revolting as the bull-fights of Spain and Latin America").  He says the Field Museum has an extensive collection of the cricket "cult" - I wonder if it's still on display.

I asked somebody I know about the status of crickets in China today.  She hasn't lived there for about a decade but says you could still buy crickets from vendors on the street.  They came in little woven cages and were kept because they made pretty sounds but didn't live long.  People still fight crickets as well though she never saw that in person.