Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Today I am going to tell you about a little town in China where the snakes outnumber the people by 3,000 to 1.  This village is called Zisiqiao, and Mom thinks its name might be pronounced something like tzee-see-chee-ow, but she admits that she is no expert on this.  Anyway, this village is located on the southeast coast of China, in the province of Zhejiang.  The people who live there used to make their living by growing tea, cotton, and jute, and by fishing. They only made an average of about 100 yuan ($16) a year.

But now things are very different because of the snakes, and some families make tens of thousands of dollars a year.  It all happened because of a man named Yang Hongchang.  Mr. Yang's family was very poor, and he was the only one who was strong enough to work all day in the fields.  But then, he got a very painful condition called spondylitis, which is inflammation in the spine.  He had lots of pain around his waist, but he couldn't stop working because his family needed him to earn money for them.  The pain got so bad that Mr. Yang couldn't even sleep at night.

He went to a doctor, and the doctor told him that he should drink medicinal wine made from the red-banded snake.  Mr. Yang couldn't afford to buy the snake in the market, so he went into the hills and caught some of them himself.  When he drank the wine made from the snakes, he started feeling better, and pretty soon he was completely cured.

Yang Hongchang

After that, Mr. Yang started catching snakes to sell to animal vendors.  But soon he realized that if everybody kept on catching snakes to use for food or medicine, the snakes might be all gone one day.  So he decided to try breeding snakes in his own back yard.  In 1985 he borrowed 10,000 yuan and got started with the project.  At first he didn't have much luck.  But he kept trying, and in 1987 he got 30,000 snake eggs to hatch.  He sold the baby snakes for 80,000 yuan, which was a huge amount of money back then.

Photo:  Aly Song, REUTERS

Other families heard about what Mr. Yang was doing, and they decided to try raising snakes, too, using Mr. Yang's methods.  Now there are about 160 families farming snakes in Zisiqiao, and they breed about three million snakes every year.  If you visit one of these farms, you will see stacks of wooden boxes where snakes live.  In the summer, there are concrete pits full of some of the most dangerous snakes.  There is one snake that is called the "five-step snake" because if it bites you, you will only get about five steps before you are dead.  There are cobras, vipers, pythons, and many other kinds of snakes in the village.

At the start, the breeders just put male and female snakes together and hoped they would mate.  But since then, they have learned a lot more about how snakes breed and how to pick the best females to use.  They also did research on the which diet the snakes should eat and how to incubate the eggs so that more of them will hatch.  Mr. Yang has now made his snake farm into a formal multi-million dollar business.  Besides researching breeding methods, the company also develops uses for their product, ranging from snake wine to snake powder.

Yang Hongchang, eating a tasty snake dinner
Photo:  Aly Song, REUTERS

There is lots of demand in traditional Chinese medicine for dried snakes.  This also includes organs such as livers and gallbladders. Drinking soup or wine made from snakes is thought to boost a person's immunity.  There are medicine factories in several large Chinese cities.  The closest one to Zisiqiao is Hangzhou.  Snake products from the village are also exported to other countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

Dried snakes
Photo:  Aly Song, REUTERS

Here's how the snakes are prepared for the market:  After they grow big enough, they are put into mesh bags and taken to be killed.  First their venom is saved, and then their heads are cut off.  After that, the snakes may be cut up to use as meat in soup or other dishes.  Or they might be dried in the open air to use for medicine and powders.

Photo:   Aly Song, REUTERS

Of course, it is dangerous to work with snakes like this all the time.  Many of the snake farmers have been bitten, and they had to get a shot of anti-venom medicine to save their lives.  One man named Yang Wenfu said in an interview that he quit raising venomous snakes after one bit him several years ago.  His arm swelled up really big because of the bite.

"After that, I no longer dared to raise vipers," Yang Wenfu said.  "I am still scared today.  Life is valuable and making money is secondary."


  1. bonjour, je voulais savoir , j'ai des taches blanches, de vitiligo, peut on les soignés ou les faires disparaitre , merci a bientot

  2. bonjour, je voulais savoir , j'ai des taches blanches, de vitiligo, peut on les soignés ou les faires disparaitre , merci a bientot

    1. Hello! Thank you for writing a comment on my blog. I wish I knew of a way to make the spots from vitiligo disappear, but I don't. I hope your condition does not get worse. Best wishes to you!