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Insects in Art

A popular pet
China, <i>Cricket container</i>, Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912), gourd with heat-incised decoration, ivory, and tortoiseshell
zoom China, Cricket container, Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912), gourd with heat-incised decoration, ivory, and tortoiseshell


Do you have a pet? Perhaps a dog or a cat? Or maybe a goldfish or a hamster? If you lived in China, you might have a pet cricket. For over a thousand years, the Chinese have kept crickets as pets.

Why keep a cricket as a pet? The Chinese like this insect’s melodic chirping. Beginning in the T’ang dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the Chinese kept crickets in cages in their homes. At night they often placed the cage by the bed, so they could enjoy the crickets’ song. It is thought that the practice of keeping crickets began with women of the imperial palace and was later taken up by peasants, who viewed it as a graceful hobby. During the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1279), crickets were prized for their fierce fighting instinct, and cricket fights became a popular entertainment. By the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), keeping crickets had become a scholarly pastime, with crickets serving as subjects for poems, stories, and academic research.

A variety of gear was made for crickets and their owners. Molded gourd containers, engraved with intricate designs, kept crickets warm in cold weather. Summertime cages were ceramic or wood. To prompt their crickets to sing, owners used a “tickler,” made of fine hair or rat whiskers attached to a wood or ceramic handle. Other items helpful in cricket care included feeding trays, cage-cleaning brushes, tweezers, and nets.

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1. This case contains ten cricket ticklers, used to prompt a cricket’s chirp.
2. Rings such as this were used for cricket fighting matches. The crickets were placed in the ring through the small side doors. Then the wooden divider was lifted, and the match began.
3. This woodblock print shows a woman carrying a cricket cage. Look closely and you will see that she is using a tickler.


March 2006