Popular Chinese ‘Healing Potion’ Is Mostly Cockroaches


cockroach, medicine“Pulverized cockroaches have been an ingredient in Chinese medicine for millennia. arlindo71/Getty Images

Sometimes, in order to get some perspective on one’s life, it is necessary to consider what the alternatives could be. Your workplace might be rife with problematic interpersonal dynamics and miserable, endless, monotonous tasks, but do you work in a cockroach factory that breeds 6 billion cockroaches every year? Probably not. Congrats!

Mind you, this place actually exists. Although about 100 cockroach breeding facilities exist in China, the city of Xichang in the southwestern Sichuan province is home to the largest in the world, and something of a technological marvel. Although cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) are famous for being able to tolerate all manner of living conditions, this facility is the first to succeed in housing roughly the human population of our planet’s worth of cockroaches under one roof. According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP), the multistory facility is "the size of two sports fields," and kept warm, dark and humid year round.

Not many people actually work in this sunless nightmare warehouse in Xichang, where the insects are encouraged to make themselves entirely at home, roaming free, helping themselves to the containers of food and water that line the walls, breeding like … well, cockroaches. The reason not many humans are required to run this gargantuan facility is that it’s actually very high tech; not only are the facility’s environmental conditions monitored by artificial intelligence, data is collected on individual cockroaches, ranging from genetic mutations to how food consumption impacts growth. When the roaches are deemed ready by the robots, they’re tossed into machines that crush them into a tea-colored liquid.

But why? That is a very good question! Pulverized cockroaches have been an ingredient in Chinese medicine for millennia, and the facility in Xichang is run by the Gooddoctor Pharmaceutical Group that manufactures a "healing potion" that millions of Chinese consume every year to treat everything from respiratory to gastric complaints. Just over 3 ounces (100 ml) of the stuff costs $4, and Gooddoctor sells it to more than 4,000 hospitals around the country.

However, not everyone in China knows their favorite medicine is made out of cockroaches. The ingredients list simply reads "Periplaneta americana." According to SCMP, some fans have been caught off guard by where their research took them:

"I searched for Periplaneta americana when drinking the potion," one reviewer wrote into the online forum Baidu Tieba. "I saw the picture and spat it all on screen."

Now That’s Horrifying

In 2013, a million cockroaches escaped a Chinese breeding facility. Authorities urged locals to remain calm while they conducted a "large-scale disinfection," which the Chinese government reported to be ultimately successful.

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