Yilishen Tianxi: Ant Farming Scheme
In 1999, Wang Fengyou founded the Yilishen Tianxi Group and hatched a scheme so crazy it’s brilliant: ant farming. He convinced poor farmers to give him 10,000 yuan (about $1,500). In return, they got a box of “special ants” and a list of very strict instructions: spritz the ants with a sugar and honey solution at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day, and feed them cake and egg yolk every three to five days. Under no circumstances were they to open the box. Every 74 days, workers from Yilishen would come by and pick up the ants to be ground up and made into an aphrodisiac. For their troubles, the farmers get 13,250 yuan, a 32.5% premium every 14 months.
By 2006, Wang was a very rich man. His company was featured in newspapers and on TV. He hired celebrities to publicize his company and hobnobbed with government officials. He even got the “China’s Top 10 Entrepreneurial Leaders” award from the government. His ant aphrodisiacs were sold in some 80,000 pharmacies across China and by some accounts, over 1 million people bred ants for Yilishen, giving the company an annual turnover of 15 billion yuan (US$2 billion).
In October 2007, Wang’s scheme collapsed. The company started to miss payouts and thousands of ant farmers descended on his company’s headquarter and government offices. A month later, Wang Fengyou was arrested.
Unlike other Ponzi scheme con artists who got off after only a few years in jail, Wang’s fate doesn’t look good. In the same year Wang’s scheme collapsed, the Chinese government started cracking down on 3,747 pyramid schemes. Wang’s rival, who conned people with a similar ant-breeding scheme, was sentenced to death.
Oh, and did his aphrodisiac ants really work? Actually yes, but not because of the ants. His products contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. (Kaynak (source) )