Beijing, 16 August 2013

Another phenomenon of this hot and muggy season is the crickets. Every tree, every bush, every blade of grass seems to host a multitude of crickets chirping like crazy. “Chirping” does not adequately describe the thunderous noise the crickets are making. Indeed, last weekend, when my wife and I were walking along a tree-shaded street, the noise in the foliage above our heads was so loud that we both instinctively looked up, half expecting to see a giant, four-foot cricket come tumbling down onto our heads.

A little navigation around my favourite fact-checking site – Wikipedia – has informed me that only male crickets chirp – or stridulate if one wants to be formally correct. They do so for one of four reasons: to attract females (“fairly loud”); to court a nearby female (“very quiet”); to chase off other males hanging around (“aggressive”); and to celebrate a bout of successful copulation (noise levels not defined). Since the noise they are currently making is so deafening, I presume we are witnessing either the first or the third of these stridulatory chants (I sort of assume – by extension of human behaviour – that post-copulatory stridulation will be merely a contented buzz). Not surprising, really, since Wikipedia informs me that crickets mate in the late summer. I presume that every male cricket in Beijing is currently hot under the collar and on the prowl.

Wikipedia has also corrected a fundamental misunderstanding on my part. I had always thought that crickets chirp – sorry, stridulate – by rubbing their legs together. Not so! They rub their wings together. One wing has a large vein – the “stridulatory organ” – which runs along the bottom of it and is covered with teeth. By rubbing the other wing along the teeth, our friend Cricket gets his chirp. And by holding his wings up and open when he does this, he gets a loudspeaker effect. Very clever.

I am moved at this point to insert a few photos of crickets, even though I know that my wife will not appreciate them much. Creepy-crawlies are not her thing and these close-ups of crickets make them out to be quite creepy-crawly.



I suppose one of the things that foreigners – or at least Western foreigners – in China find odd is the important role which crickets have played, and continue to play,  in China as pets.  To be honest, I personally find it very strange that anyone would want a cricket as a pet. Don’t get me wrong, I find it admirable for people to have small pets – I think it’s ridiculous, even cruel, to have large dogs as pets in a crowded city, for instance – but I think mice is about the smallest one should reasonably go. Having an insect as a pet seems frankly contrarian, especially since their life expectancy is low to very low: for instance, an adult cricket lives about a month before it kicks the bucket, shuffles off its mortal coil, runs down the curtain, and joins the choir invisible (as John Cleese memorably put it in the Monty Python skit about the dead Norwegian parrot).

But important they have been. Over the centuries, Chinese have lovingly built cages for their cricket pets, using materials which go from the most precious to the most humble:


cricket cage-3-jade


cricket cage-9-ivory

Ceramic (this particular version has some rather naughty pictures on it):

cricket cage-12-ceramic

Ox bone:

cricket cage-6-ox bone


cricket cage-11-zicha


cricket cage-1-bamboo

There was even a cottage industry – controlled by the Emperor’s household, presumably because it was so lucrative – in growing special gourds to be used as cricket cages:

cricket cage-10-gourd

And of course crickets have graced Chinese scrolls:

scroll with cricket-1

scroll with cricket-3

The extraordinary thing is that crickets still play a role in Chinese life. Here is a picture I took outside some pet shops in Shanghai. This is a string of cricket cages, made of humble raffia or something similar

cricket cages Shanghai 001

while this is a close-up of another string, in even humbler plastic, where you can see the crickets inside, waiting for their new masters.

cricket cages Shanghai 002

The Chinese even used crickets to hold cricket fights.  They still do.

cricket fighting

This I have not seen yet. I wonder if English bookies could get into this game.

english bookies-2

And with that, I wish you goodnight through the most famous cricket of all, Jiminy Cricket:

Jiminy Cricket


Green cricket:
Brown cricket:
Cricket cages-jade:
Cricket cage-9:
Cricket cage-ceramic:
Cricket cage-ox-bone:
Cricket cage-metal:
Cricket cage-bamboo:
Cricket cage-gourd:
Scroll with cricket-1:
Scroll with cricket-3:
Cricket fighting:
English bookies:
Jiminy Cricket:×576.jpg

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I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

6 thoughts on “CHIRPING CRICKETS”

  1. Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thank you|


  2. May I use the cricket picture at the top of this blog post for a blog on my website. I want to post it was a Word of the Day. The word is stridulate, which is what crickets do when they make the sounds.


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