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!











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

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