One of the most quoted numbers about China is its population, still the world’s largest at 1.4 billion. But a less remarked upon Chinese statisitic on population involves cockroaches. A widely read report in the South China Morning Post noted that China has the world’s largest cockroach breeding facility, capable of producing 6 billion of the insects per year.
Why, you might be asking, would anyone want to breed so many cockroaches – especially as the bug is considered a disgusting pest by most people. The answer is that they are crushed into a potion which the Sichuan provincial government says has “remarkable effects” on stomach pain. This tonic, which is sweet and has a slightly fishy smell, has been given by doctors to 40 million patients around the country, with the cockroach farm selling it to 4,000 hospitals.
Cockroaches have been an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and the insects themselves are said to have been alive at the time of the dinosaurs. The farm in question also stirred the SCMP’s interest for another reason: the breeding process is overseen by AI technology to maximise cockroach production. “In the cockroach farm, the AI system learns from past work, self-adjusting to improve cockroach production,” commented the newspaper. The farm in Xichang is operated by Chengdu-based Gooddoctor Pharmaceutical Group.
However, some academics warn there are risks to consider. Zhu Chaodong of the Institute of Zoology said it would be a “catastrophe” if billions of cockroaches were to escape into surrounding areas because of an earthquake wrecking the farm. He added it would be a “terrifying” prospect for the city of Xichang’s 800,000 inhabitants.