A Ubiquity of Sparrows: Background
Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, so that birds began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion.
Reflecting upon the environmental impact of species fluctuations and the effect of removing opportunistic species led me to Mao Zedong’s Four Pests campaign and the deliberate eradication of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. This has long been considered a contributing factor in one of the world’s worst self-inflicted environmental disasters, leading to China’s famine [1958-1961].
The Four Pests campaign was instigated by Mao, who declared that mosquitos, flies, sparrows, and rats were unhygienic and needed to be eradicated. Sparrows were included, as calculations had been done that determined that they ate approximately 4 kilograms per year of grain. Therefore, if 1 million sparrows were killed, you could feed 60 thousand people. He announced that “the whole people, including five-year old children, must be mobilized to eliminate the four pests.”
For three days in December 1958, the entire populace was exhorted to participate in the slaughter of sparrows. Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, so that birds, afraid to land, began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion. Truckloads with millions of dead sparrows were driven around the cities and towns to demonstrate the efficacy of the campaign.
China’s Academy of Sciences later produced a report on how many insects, such as locusts, a favorite food of the sparrow, the birds ate compared to seed, demonstrating the killing of sparrows was highly counter-productive; the proliferation of locusts and insects was a factor in the deaths of 30 to 45 million people due to famine resulting from massive crop destruction.
These birds were later reintroduced to the country from Russia.
The whole people, including five-year old children, must be mobilized to eliminate the four pests.