Promoting Weaving: The Tale of Cheng Ming and the Remarkable Cricket

Explore the intriguing story of Cheng Ming, who went from poverty to wealth by offering crickets to the emperor, revealing the impact of seemingly small actions on people's lives.

In the Xuan De period of the Ming Dynasty, there was a popular game of cricket fighting in the imperial palace. Every year, crickets were collected from the common people. Originally, crickets were not a specialty of Shaanxi, but a county magistrate in Huayin wanted to please his superiors, so he presented a cricket for a trial fight. It turned out to be quite formidable, so the court ordered Huayin County to contribute crickets every year. The county magistrate delegated this task to the local authorities.

Idle people in the streets and markets would catch good crickets and raise them in bamboo cages, raising their prices and treating them as rare items to be sold at a high price. The cunning and deceitful local officials would use this as an excuse to levy taxes based on the population, causing several families to go bankrupt for each cricket they designated to be submitted.

In the county, there was a young man named Cheng Ming who had been a scholar for many years without passing the provincial examination. He was introverted and inept at rhetoric. As a result, the crafty local officials reported him to take on the duties of a local officer. He tried every means to avoid this responsibility but couldn’t get out of it. In less than a year, he had lost most of his meager possessions. This happened just when they were collecting crickets, and Cheng Ming couldn’t dare to levy taxes on households. He couldn’t afford to compensate himself either, and he was deeply distressed, even contemplating suicide.

His wife said, “What’s the use of dying? Why not try to find some crickets on your own? Maybe there’s still a glimmer of hope.” Cheng Ming thought her words made sense. He would leave early and return late, carrying a bamboo tube and a cage made of copper wire. He searched in ruined walls, overgrown weeds, turned over rocks, and dug into holes, trying every possible method, but he always came up empty-handed. Even if he managed to catch three or four crickets, they were all inferior and too small to meet the standards.

The county magistrate had set a strict deadline, pressuring him relentlessly, and in just over ten days, he had endured hundreds of beatings, with pus and blood flowing between his two buttocks. He couldn’t even catch a cricket anymore. Cheng Ming tossed and turned in bed, with the only thought in his mind being suicide.

At that time, a hunchbacked witch arrived in the village, known for her ability to divine good and bad fortune through communication with spirits. Cheng Ming’s wife prepared some money and went to consult her. Upon arrival, she found a crowd of people at the door, including a young girl in red and an elderly woman with white hair. Inside the house, there was a secluded room with a cloth curtain hanging in front of it, and an incense altar placed in front of the curtain.

The divination seeker lit incense in the incense burner, bowed twice, and the witch stood by, praying to the heavens and murmuring words that no one could understand. Everyone present stood respectfully, listening in silence. After a short while, a piece of paper was thrown from behind the curtain, and it contained the exact questions people had come to ask. Cheng Ming’s wife placed money on the altar and performed the customary incense-burning ritual, just like the others before her.

After about the time it takes to eat a meal, the curtain moved, and another piece of paper fell to the ground. Upon picking it up, she discovered it wasn’t written words but rather a drawing: in the middle was a grand building resembling a temple; behind it, there was a hill with various strange rocks, thorny bushes, and at the bottom, a green-hatted cricket; next to it, there was a frog that looked like it was about to leap. She puzzled over it repeatedly, not quite understanding its meaning, but noticing the cricket in the drawing, she had a vague sense that it was related to their current situation. So she carefully folded the drawing and took it back home to show Cheng Ming.

Cheng Ming pondered it repeatedly. Could this be a hint about where to catch crickets? Examining the details of the scenery, it closely resembled the Great Buddha Temple to the east of the village. So, he reluctantly got up, leaned on his crutch, and with the picture in hand, he came to the back of the temple. There, ancient graves loomed high, and as he moved along the graveyard, he saw a jumble of stones, densely packed like fish scales, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the drawing. He then carefully listened amid the wild grass, moved at a slow pace, as if searching for a needle or a mustard seed. However, despite using all his strength, vision, and hearing, he neither saw the shadow of a cricket nor heard it chirping.

Cheng Ming continued his search relentlessly. Suddenly, a speckled toad leaped away abruptly, startling him. He hurriedly gave chase. As the toad jumped into the tall grass, he closely followed its tracks, parting the weeds and searching. Finally, he spotted a cricket nestled among the grass roots. He rushed to catch it, but the cricket darted into a crack in the rocks. Using slender blades of grass, he tried to coax the cricket out, but it refused. So, he poured water into the crack with a bamboo tube, and the cricket leaped out.

The cricket had a robust appearance. Cheng Ming caught it, and upon closer inspection, he found it to be quite large with long antennae, a green neck, and golden wings. He was overjoyed and brought the cricket home, placing it in a clay pot to care for it. He fed it with fresh crab meat and ripe chestnuts, showing it the utmost care, preparing to use it to appease the government officials when the deadline arrived.

Cheng Ming had a nine-year-old son. Seeing his father wasn’t around, the boy secretly opened the pot containing the cricket. The cricket leaped out of the pot so quickly that he couldn’t catch it in time. When he finally managed to grab it, the cricket had already lost a leg and had a broken belly. It died shortly after. The son, frightened and in tears, told his mother what had happened.

Upon hearing this, the mother turned pale and scolded angrily, “You wicked child! Your doom has come! When your father returns, he will surely settle the score with you!” The son left the house in tears. Not long after, Cheng Ming returned home. When he heard what his wife had to say, it was as if his entire body had been immersed in ice and snow. He stormed off in search of his son, but the boy had disappeared without a trace.

Later, he found his son’s lifeless body in a well. Overwhelmed by anger and grief, he cried out to the heavens and the earth, nearly fainting. The husband and wife wept together in a corner, lost their appetite, and fell into a silent despair with no hope left. As night fell, Cheng Ming decided to hastily bury his son. However, when he touched the boy, he felt a faint breath of life. Overjoyed, he placed his son on the bed.

In the middle of the night, the son woke up, and the couple felt some relief in their hearts. But the cricket cage remained empty. Every time Cheng Ming looked at it, he couldn’t muster anger or words, and he didn’t dare to pursue the matter with his son. From dusk until dawn, he remained sleepless.

As the sun rose from the east, Cheng Ming still lay on his bed, lost in his thoughts. Suddenly, he heard a cricket chirping outside the door, which startled him. He quickly got up to investigate and saw that the cricket seemed to still be there. He joyfully went to catch the cricket. The cricket chirped once and then leaped away, moving very quickly. Cheng Ming tried to catch it with his hand, but it seemed as if there was nothing in his palm. As soon as he lifted his hand, the cricket swiftly jumped away again. He chased after it, turned a corner, and lost track of it.

Cheng Ming hesitated, looking around, and finally spotted the cricket perched on a wall. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that this cricket was small, black with a hint of red, completely different from the previous one. He didn’t like this small cricket and found it unappealing. He continued to search for the cricket he had intended to catch, walking back and forth, looking in different directions.

At that moment, the small cricket on the wall suddenly jumped onto his clothing, landing on his collar and sleeves. Upon examination, this cricket resembled a mud-colored dog with plum-blossom wings, square head, and long legs. It seemed quite suitable, so he happily caught it and placed it in a cage. While preparing to offer the cricket to the authorities, Cheng Ming felt uneasy and worried that they might not be satisfied. He thought about testing the cricket in a match first to see how it performed.

Coincidentally, there was a young man in the village who was skilled at raising crickets. He had a cricket he named “Green Crab Shell,” and he would engage in cricket fights with other young men every day, always emerging victorious. He hoped to make a fortune with this cricket, but his asking price was too high, and no one was willing to buy it. He decided to pay a visit to Cheng Ming, and upon seeing the small cricket Cheng Ming was raising, he couldn’t help but suppress a laugh. He then took out his own cricket and placed it in the cricket-fighting cage.

Cheng Ming saw that this cricket was not only large but also of impressive stature, and he felt ashamed and didn’t dare to compete. However, the young man insisted on a competition. Cheng Ming thought that raising a mediocre cricket would ultimately be of no use, so he agreed to the challenge, hoping to bring some laughter. He poured the small cricket into the fighting arena.

The little cricket lay still, motionless like a wooden chicken. The young man burst into laughter again. He used a pig bristle to tease the cricket’s antennae, but the small cricket remained unmoved, causing the young man to laugh even harder. He repeatedly teased the cricket, and it became furious, charging forward. Soon, both crickets were leaping, grappling, and chirping loudly, engaged in a fierce battle.

After a while, the small cricket leaped high into the air, extended its tail, and went straight for the neck of the “Green Crab Shell” cricket. The young man was startled and quickly separated them, ending the combat. At that moment, the small cricket spread its wings and proudly chirped, as if it was declaring victory to its owner. Cheng Ming was overjoyed.

While they were both admiring the small cricket, a rooster suddenly rushed in and pecked at it. Cheng Ming shouted in fear. Fortunately, the rooster missed, and the small cricket leaped more than a foot away. The rooster pursued relentlessly, and it seemed that the small cricket was about to be caught under the rooster’s claws. Cheng Ming was in a hurry, not knowing how to save it and was stomping his feet, his face turning pale. Just as the rooster extended its neck to make a final attack, they saw that the small cricket had landed on the rooster’s comb and was biting it firmly. Cheng Ming was even more delighted and immediately caught the cricket, placing it in a bamboo cage.

The next day, Cheng Ming presented the small cricket to the county magistrate. The magistrate found the cricket too small and scolded Cheng Ming in anger. Cheng Ming spoke of the extraordinary abilities of the small cricket, but the magistrate was skeptical. To test it, they had the small cricket fight against other crickets, all of which were defeated. They also had it compete against a rooster, and it performed just as Cheng Ming had claimed.

Therefore, the magistrate rewarded Cheng Ming and sent the small cricket to the governor. The governor was delighted and placed the small cricket in a cage made of golden threads, presenting it to the emperor. He submitted a detailed report on the cricket’s abilities. In the palace, the small cricket competed against valuable crickets from all over the country, including butterflies, praying mantises, and more, and it outperformed them all. When it heard the sound of musical instruments, the small cricket could even dance in rhythm, gaining more admiration.

The emperor was also pleased and praised the cricket highly, bestowing the governor with a fine horse and silk fabrics. The governor, in turn, remembered Cheng Ming’s contribution. Not long after, the magistrate reported Cheng Ming’s “outstanding and excellent achievements” in an assessment. The magistrate was naturally delighted and relieved Cheng Ming of his duties as a prison warden, entrusting him to the school.

Over a year later, Cheng Ming’s son fully recovered, and he claimed that his body had transformed into a cricket. He was agile and skilled in cricket fights, finally awakening from his condition. The governor also rewarded Cheng Ming generously. In just a few years, Cheng Ming’s family owned a hundred acres of fertile land, numerous buildings, two hundred cattle and sheep, and whenever he went out, he dressed in fine fur and rode a fat horse, surpassing even the most prominent families.

Yi Shi, the historian, remarked: The emperor might casually use an item, which he might forget afterward, but the officials in charge of offerings would establish it as a regular practice. Coupled with corrupt and oppressive officials, the common people had to sell their wives and children every day to meet the demands. Therefore, the emperor’s every action was related to the life and death of the people and could not be neglected.

Only Cheng Ming, impoverished due to extortion by corrupt officials, became wealthy through offering crickets. He enjoyed fine furs and fat horses, his spirits soaring. When he served as a prison warden and endured beatings, who could have imagined he would be in this position today! It seems that fate intended to reward honest and sincere individuals, extending its protection even to the governor and county magistrate through the crickets.

It is often said that when one achieves enlightenment, even their household animals become immortals. Indeed, it is true!

《促织》

宣德间,宫中尚促织之戏,岁征民间。此物故非西产,有华阴令欲媚上官,以一头进,试使斗而才,因责常供。令以责之里正。市中游侠儿得佳者笼养之,昂其直,居为奇货。里胥猾黠,假此科敛丁口,每责一头,辄倾数家之产。

邑有成名者,操童子业,久不售。为人迂讷,遂为猾胥报充里正役,百计营谋不能脱,不终岁,薄产累尽。会征促织,成不敢敛户口,而又无所赔偿,忧闷欲死。妻曰:“死何裨益?不如自行搜觅,冀有万一之得。”成然之。早出暮归,提竹筒铜丝笼,于败堵丛草处,探石发穴,靡计不施,迄无济。即捕得三两头,又劣弱不中于款。宰严限追比,旬馀,杖至百,两股间脓血流离,并虫亦不能行捉矣。转侧床头,惟思自尽。

时村中来一驼背巫,能以神卜。成妻具赀诣问,见红女白婆,填塞门户。入其舍,则密室垂帘,帘外设香几。问者爇香于鼎,再拜。巫从傍望空代祝,唇吻翕辟,不知何词。各各竦立以听。少间,帘内掷一纸出,即道人意中事,无毫发爽。成妻纳钱案上,焚拜如前人。食顷,帘动,片纸抛落。拾视之,非字而画:中绘殿阁,类兰若;后小山下,怪石乱卧,针针丛棘,青麻头伏焉;旁一蟆,若将跳舞。展玩不可晓,然睹促织,隐中胸怀。折藏之,归以示成。

成反复自念,得无教我猎虫所耶?细瞻景状,与村东大佛阁真逼似。乃强起扶杖,执图诣寺后。有古陵蔚起,循陵而走,见蹲石鳞鳞,俨然类画。遂于蒿莱中,侧听徐行,似寻针芥,而心目耳力俱穷,绝无踪响。冥搜未已,一癞头蟆猝然跃去。成益愕,急逐趁之。蟆入草间,蹑迹披求,见有虫伏棘根。遽扑之,入石穴中。掭以尖草,不出,以筒水灌之,始出。状极俊健。逐而得之,审视,巨身修尾,青项金翅。大喜,笼归。举家庆贺,虽连城拱璧不啻也。土于盆而养之,蟹白栗黄,备极护爱,留待限期,以塞官责。

成有子九岁,窥父不在,窃发盆。虫跃掷径出,迅不可捉。及扑入手,已股落腹裂,斯须就毙。儿惧,啼告母。母闻之,面色灰死,大骂曰:“业根!死期至矣!而翁归,自与汝覆算耳!”儿涕而出。未几成归,闻妻言,如被冰雪。怒索儿,儿渺然不知所往。既得其尸于井,因而化怒为悲,抢呼欲绝。夫妻向隅,茅舍无烟,相对默然,不复聊赖。日将暮,取儿藁葬。近抚之,气息惙然。喜寘榻上,半夜复甦,夫妻心稍慰。但蟋蟀笼虚,顾之则气断声吞,亦不敢复究儿。自昏达曙,目不交睫。

东曦既驾,僵卧长愁。忽闻门外虫鸣,惊起觇视,虫宛然尚在。喜而捕之。一鸣辄跃去,行且速。覆之以掌,虚若无物,手裁举,则又超忽而跃。急趁之,折过墙隅,迷其所往。徘徊四顾,见虫伏壁上。审谛之,短小,黑赤色,顿非前物。成以其小,劣之,惟彷徨瞻顾,寻所逐者。壁上小虫,忽跃落衿袖间。视之,形若土狗,梅花翅,方首长胫,意似良,喜而收之。将献公堂,惴惴恐不当意,思试之斗以觇之。

村中少年好事者,驯养一虫,自名“蟹壳青”,日与子弟角,无不胜。欲居之以为利,而高其直,亦无售者。径造庐访成,视成所蓄,掩口胡卢而笑。因出己虫,纳比笼中。成视之,庞然修伟,自增惭怍,不敢与较。少年固强之。顾念蓄劣物终无所用,不如拼博一笑,因合纳斗盆。小虫伏不动,蠢若木鸡。少年又大笑。试以猪鬣毛,撩拨虫须,仍不动。少年又笑。屡撩之,虫暴怒,直奔,遂相腾击,振奋作声。俄见小虫跃起,张尾伸须,直龁敌领。少年大骇,解令休止。虫翘然矜鸣,似报主知。成大喜。方共瞻玩,一鸡瞥来,径进以啄。成骇立愕呼。幸啄不中,虫跃去尺有咫,鸡健进,逐逼之,虫已在爪下矣。成仓猝莫知所救,顿足失色。旋见鸡伸颈摆扑,临视,则虫集冠上,力叮不释。成益惊喜,掇置笼中。

翼日进宰,宰见其小,怒诃成。成述其异,宰不信。试与他虫斗,虫尽靡,又试之鸡,果如成言。乃赏成,献诸抚军。抚军大悦,以金笼进上,细疏其能。既入宫中,举天下所贡蝴蝶、螳螂、油利挞、青丝额……一切异状,遍试之,无出其右者。每闻琴瑟之声,则应节而舞,益奇之。上大嘉悦,诏赐抚臣名马衣缎。抚军不忘所自,无何,宰以“卓异”闻。宰悦,免成役,又嘱学使,俾入邑庠。后岁馀,成子精神复旧,自言身化促织,轻捷善斗,今始苏耳。抚军亦厚赉成。不数岁,田百顷,楼阁万椽,牛羊蹄躈各千计,一出门,裘马过世家焉。

异史氏曰:天子偶用一物,未必不过此已忘,而奉行者即为定例。加以官贪吏虐,民日贴妇卖儿,更无休止。故天子一跬步,皆关民命,不可忽也。独是成氏子以蠹贫,以促织富,裘马扬扬。当其为里正、受扑责时,岂意其至此哉!天将以酬长厚者,遂使抚臣、令尹,并受促织恩荫。闻之:一人飞升,仙及鸡犬。信夫!

3 thoughts on “Promoting Weaving: The Tale of Cheng Ming and the Remarkable Cricket”

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