Updated: Mar 12, 2020
You are a champion fighter. You are fed a special high protein diet to
keep you in peak condition. Before a fight you are allowed a night of passion to arouse your fighting spirit. You only live for 100 days but when you die you will be buried in your own two inch long wooden coffin. You are a sporting celebrity of the insect world - you are one of Liu Yun Jiang's fighting crickets!
Liu Yin Jiang lives in a siheyuan on Black Seasame hutong. These courtyard houses are cabinets of mysteries, open a door, open a drawer, enter another life. Away from the alley-way hum of human voices you enter a courtyard menagerie vibrant with the colours and sounds of animal lives. The cricket-trainer lives surrounded by flashing fish, squawking parrots and twitching rabbits but the heart of this animal community is the wild, un-tamed spirit of Liu Yin Jiang himself, sweeping you in with his unrestrained enthusiasm for the chosen world of his life, training fighting crickets.
There is nothing museum-like about Mr Liu. His aged handsome face is cross-crossed with as many laughter lines as there are hutong in Beijing. Yet he is a living link to a tradition and culture of cricket-fighting at least as old as the Song Dynasty. The room he takes you to is as exotic and Quixotic as his beautiful mind. He takes a wooden bat from the wall and cackles in English, 'cricket, not cricket!', with the enigmatic wisdom of a zen monk. For two hours his love of his craft pours out through his demonstration, accompanied by the constant chorus of his laughter; his face the rude , untamable mask of nature itself. In 'The Importance of Living' , Lin Yutang diagnosed the 'scamp' as the true dignity of humankind, and Liu is a treasured example of this type. Perhaps he is a descendant of Jia Shi-Dou, (1213-1275)the notorious cricket minister who dedicated his life to writing the Cu Zhi Jin, the definitive manual on cricket training, an act of dedication which cost him his job. And like any master craftsman there are mysteries of the art to be preserved. 'Where do the best fighting crickets come from?' produces a joking, vague answer about a mountainside in Shangdong province. Perhaps he is alluding to the famous Ningjin County where legend has it a Song dynasty emperor scattered his cricket collection at the foot of the sacred Mount Tai. The descendants of these crickets are said to be the world’s best fighters.
Of course you want to see crickets fighting. Liu obliges by tickling the antennae of two of his insect gladiators until they are aroused and briefly lock in combat. Then they separate and circle each other disinterestedly. Undismayed Liu replaces them in their box homes, explaining that the fighting season is in autumn. Then there is a month of excitement including tournaments in Shanghai and Beijing. And by way of a climax here he produces two large gourds and like a demonic magician conjures out two enormous creatures, his champions for the tournaments to come. Generously he places a champion on each of your outstretched arms and you can truly appreciate them - their warrior-like, brave, valiant, and indomitable spirits, the spirit they share with their trainer himself.