Emancipating Mr. Knightley

It had always been the plan to let him go. Animals in cages – except for hamsters – are a little too metaphorical for me, especially birds. I mean, if you’re not gonna eat it, then let it live! We let Mr. Knightley out in the backyard tonight after a picnic dinner by the canal. During dinner we put his cage in the grass and he started chirping, and two little crickets came and crawled in the cage and started eating his food. We figured his days were numbered anyway, since I think they die off when winter comes, so might as well let him die free. We tried to pick the bushiest place in the backyard where the birds and kids wouldn’t get him. You can see some more Mr. Knightley pictures here.

Here’s a depressing excerpt from “Chinese Cricket Culture” by Jin Xing-Bao of the Shanghai Institute of Entomology, about one possible origin of pet crickets in China:

…it was not until the beginning of the Tang dynasty that they were kept purely for the enjoyment of their song. We find a record of this kind of captivity in the book of “Kai Yuan Tian Boa Yi Shi” (Affairs of the Period of Tian Bao, 742-759 A.D.):

“Whenever the autumn arrives, the ladies of the palace catch crickets and keep them in small golden cages, which were placed near their pillows so as to hear their songs during the night. This custom was also mirrored by common people.”

Most of the ladies of the palace were concubines to the Emperor. With emperors typically having three thousand concubines, their life was typified by a rich material life but starved emotional and cultural experience. A similarity can be drawn between the concubines and their captive crickets in their golden cages. Rather than enjoying the sweet chirps of the crickets, the concubines heard a reflection of their own sadness and loneliness in the cricket’s chirp.

I heard they’re cheaper during winter (crickets, not concubines)… maybe we’ll get another one and let it go next summer.

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