The onset of autumn is highly anticipated by China's cricket fighting amateurs. Over one thousand years old, these traditional insect games are still popular today – and a whole industry has developed around these miniature duels.

Before a fight, each cricket is weighed to ensure it is fighting in the appropriate category. The insects are struck with a thin stem across their back and antenna to ensure they are fired up. The fighters then face off on the ring, biting and shoving. The matches rarely last more than a minute, and are considered over when one of the crickets runs away.


In Xi'an, crickets just before a fight.

In some villages, cricket fights are helping drive the local economy. This is the case in Sidan, a small village in the eastern province of Shandong. The region boasts of famously large crickets, highly coveted by fans. Every August, when the insects reach maturity, the locals go out to hunt for them.

According to an article on the website 163.com, picked up by the blog ChinaHush, a household can earn up to 100,000 yuan monthly (around 12,500 euros) thanks to this seasonal pastime. While most of these insects sell for the equivalent of a few euros, the strongest crickets can rake in up to several thousand euros.




"The illegal tournaments often attract very rich players"

Xiao Ningbo has been a fan of cricket fighting since childhood. For this resident of Jiaxing in Zhejiang province (south-east), the huge prices some insects can fetch are a result of lucrative -- and illegal -- betting.

 
“In September and October, tournaments are organised across the country. The crickets are classed by category, and the matches are refereed by specialists. These competitions attract enthusiasts who have invested both money and time in raising and training their crickets. The winners can take home between 2,000 and 10,000 yuan (250 to 1,250 euros).

There are also underground competitions which rack up much more impressive sums. Last year, the police caught wind of one such tournament organized in Jiaxing. Dozens were arrested in the sting, with a rumoured one million yuan (125,000 euros) of bets on the table. These illegal championships often bring together very rich players, and it is usually where the best crickets fight
 

A cricket fight in Taiwan.




When they are not in the arena, the crickets are kept in small jars. They have an average lifespan of one hundred days. They are fed a mix of cereals, such as corn, along with powdered milk and fish food, though some owners create their own menus, adding medicinal herbs.

All photographs taken in Xi'an by Weibo user “Searching for old Xi'an.”