Our new cicada overlords have formally arrived.

You could be making use of Cicada Safari to keep track of Brood X, which appears to be bit by bit emerging from the earth in the U.S. all the way from Florida to Michigan. But cicadas are international citizens. In China, the critters have very long been symbolically considerable.

“Cicadas are essentially fairly distinguished in Chinese literature, art and culture,” says Haiyan Lee, a professor of east Asian languages and cultures and of comparative literature at Stanford University. They’re even element of armed forces approach, she provides. Amongst the famous Thirty-6 Strategems, a selection of essays a little like The Artwork of War, is a maneuver identified as “Slough off the Cicada’s Golden Shell.” It refers to building a decoy to escape from a much better enemy.

Wang Zhen, Cicada on tree branch, Modern time period, 1919, Fan mounted as album leaf, ink on gold-flecked paper, Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art, F1998.222.2

Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


conceal caption

toggle caption

Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Establishment, Washington, D.C.

Cicadas pop up in Chinese folktales, way too, like this animated 1 on YouTube about a friendship involving a cicada and a fowl. And they are in classical poetry, like the terrific Tang Dynasty poem “Ode to the Cicada,” composed from the stage of perspective of a political prisoner.


The insects’ appearances extend back 4,000 decades, to a time when historic settlers carved cicadas from jade and positioned them on the tongues of the dead just before burial, evoking transcendence and eternal everyday living.

“The earliest illustrations we have day to the Neolithic interval,” suggests Sarah Laursen, a curator of Chinese art at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Mass. “There’s a person Han Dynasty cicada in our collection that is my most loved. This jade cicada is easy and flat and fits in the palm of your hand. The carving’s extremely uncomplicated, just a couple lines. The wings are tucked in near to the body. Now, actual cicadas have apparent wings coated with delicate veins — but most jade cicadas are just simple. This just one is particular. It has tiny triangles of gold foils exhibiting just how important it was.”

Cicadas were being connected with nobility, provides Smithsonian curator Jan Stuart, who wrote about cicadas in Chinese artwork in an essay for the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. “They have huge eyes,” she suggests, evoking visionary management. “And they consume only they purest of pure matters, tree sap.”

Decorative Plaque, Eastern Jin dynasty (317–420), 4th–5th century, China, Gilt bronze, gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and white coral.



The Satisfied


hide caption

toggle caption



The Satisfied

That indicates cicadas have a kind of incorruptible character. “But they are in this sort of muddied earth,” Stuart carries on. “And then they arise but they arise unsullied, and they fly to the greatest branches of a tree.” Lofty and transformative, cicadas could be easily go through, she indicates, as intermediaries involving earth and heaven.

Some men and women uncover cicadas terrifying-looking, with their pink, bulging eyes, veiny wings and creepy, fragile shells they leave at the rear of. “My suggestions is just glance at them in Chinese artwork,” Stuart laughs. “They are attractive.”

And especially right now, she provides, a strong and enduring image of transformation and regeneration.