The genocide of the sparrows in China: the most terrible decision of Mao Zedong

History 03/02/20 Genocide sparrows in China: the most terrible decision of Mao Zedong

In the twentieth century mankind had finally believed in his power and tried to implement various projects related to the management of nature. But all the efforts of people to combat the natural order of life, as a rule, ended tragically. Especially hard lesson was received by the Chinese, and destroyed in 1958, almost all the sparrows and other small birds in the country. Started after a famine killed tens of millions of people, and the leadership of China had to buy birds in Canada and the Soviet Union.


a well-Known international columnist, publicist Leonid Mlechin, in his book “China is a great country number one?” (Saint Petersburg, 2012 edition) a critical assessment of the policies of Chairman of the CPC Central Committee Mao Zedong not only in the field of ecology. According to the author, the campaign for the destruction of sparrows was only one of several socio-economic projects of the head of the Chinese Communist party ended in complete failure. Judging by the negative evaluations of Mao Zedong, contained in the works of many Russian historians, that Chinese policies embody the negative traits of two notorious leaders of the USSR: I. V. Stalin and N. S. Khrushchev. On the one hand, according to L. M. Mlechin, Chairman Mao conducted in China forced collectivization, by pooling the peasants in people’s communes, which, in fact, was a labor camp. People were forced to work for rations, taking them all the meager personal property. Brutal suppression of any attempts of dissent in all walks of life turned out a total cleansing in the ranks of politicians, scientists and public figures. On the other hand, Mao Zedong was prone to large-scale experiments in different sectors of the economy. Khrushchev with his slogan “Corn — Queen of fields” is nothing compared with those “innovations” which have been aroused in China in the framework of the project “Great leap forward” in 1958-1962 years. What is at least an order of regular citizens to equip their homes in the blast furnace and mass production of pig iron.

the fact that the Chinese leadership decided a few years to overtake all economically developed countries in the world in terms of industrial and agricultural production. To achieve this goal it is within the framework of Communist ideology. According to Russian historians, the “Great leap forward” killed nearly 38 million people, most of whom died from starvation or overwork in the impact construction projects. One of the national programs that have been implemented in the framework of this project, there was a massive campaign to exterminate the country’s “four pests”. In them were rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows.12 February 1958, Mao Zedong signed included in the history of the decree on the complete destruction of these “enemies”. Because flies, mosquitoes and rats to destroy it was not easy, residents of China have concentrated their efforts on birds. Besides 18 March 1958 from the rostrum of the VIII Congress of the Communist party of China, the head of the CPC Central Committee called for a merciless struggle with the sparrows who peck too much grain.

Academic divisions

the Representative Miniborescopes ornithological society, uniting scientists of the former USSR, Evgeny Eduardovich Shergalin wrote an article “the Story of the infamous campaign for the destruction of sparrows in China”, which was published in the “Russian ornithological journal (vol. 24, 2015). Renowned specialist indicated that the preconditions for the destruction of these birds in China originated in 1955, when some leaders from science began to compare sparrows with pests and thieves. And in the fall of 1956, members of the 2nd conference of the Chinese Zoological society, held in Qingdao city (Shandong province), accused birds to food shortages. Say, they eat agricultural crops. Scientists estimate that TDGolavie sparrows in China is 2.5 billion individuals, each of them pecks annually 2.5 kg of grain. The result farmers are losing a number of products, which would be enough to feed 35 million people.

However, in scientific circles of China, there was absolute unity on this subject were hotly debated. The main “enemy” of sparrows was made by the Deputy Minister of education, Zhou Jian, author of numerous scientific papers on biology. He was sure that the food problem will be solved by getting rid of the feathered pests. His opponent was made by the ornithologist Cheng TSO-Hsin, who tried to convince the scientific community that this approach is absolutely unacceptable. In 1957, he and his associates have published in the “Journal of Zoology” article “Preliminary report on the food of sparrows”. It was pointed out that sparrows benefit agriculture. The results of their research, Cheng TSO-Hsin, sent and other Chinese publications. He wrote that in the period of hatching and fledging, which will coincide with the growing season and harvest, sparrows consume many insects. And the birds living in cities and forests, do not cause any damage to crops and granaries. Unfortunately, the arguments of reason were not heard in time by the Chinese leadership. And Mao Zedong confided in influential official from the science, what was Zhou Jian, moreover, many other scientists supported him, not wanting the negative consequences for their own careers.

the War with sparrows

the Famous American environmentalist Judith Shapiro (Judith Shapiro) paid serious attention to the extermination of sparrows in his book “Mao’s War against nature” (Mao’s war against nature//Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China). This scientific work was published by Cambridge University press in 2001.
As written by Judith Shapiro: “the Slogan “Sweep the Four Pests” (Chu si Hai) was propagandized and turned into a coordinated and synchronized campaign for the destruction of birds, towhich was carried out throughout the country. In contrast to forest destruction or degradation of agricultural land, the campaign against sparrows was aimed at direct killing. The attack on the sparrows have involved child soldiers in a war against nature. In this movement against “pests” students were among the main participants.” Indeed, as I recall, many Chinese, the destruction of sparrows in the country were widespread: children, adults and the elderly together destroyed the birds, which the party and the government considered to be pests, ruining crops. Pupils, students, soldiers, workers and employees were released from school and work, were sent to fight the newfound enemies. Nobody objected, and if they disagreed – they were silent. Parents and teachers told the kids to destroy bird nests and shoot slingshots.

the Guys that killed the most sparrows, schools were given honourable mentions. Newspapers gleefully printed pictures, which you could see mountains of dead birds. Their corpses were taken to the dump by trucks. Since Sparrow is not capable of more than 15 minutes to be in the air, the Chinese rattled dishes, knocked with sticks and iron things, scaring birds. Exhausted birds fell to the ground, where they finished off people. Going into a rage, residents of China have destroyed nearly all small birds. According to experts, a few months of the war were killed about 2 billion sparrows. Nearly a million birds were killed in just the first three days of mass action, launched in Beijing and Shanghai. Although the birds living in cities, could not cause any damage to crops — they had very different food supply.

nature’s Revenge

Writer-naturalist Stanislav Franzevich Starykovych in the book “The ordinary animals” (Moscow, 1989 edition) wrote, referring to zoologist V. B. Chekalin, that in 1960, “the destruction of sparrows took off from the oppression of the natural insects, and they rapidly multiplied”. The caterpillars completely ate all agricultural crops, othere green spaces almost completely destroyed the locusts and other pests. Indeed, in China by the fall of 1958, almost no sparrows and other small birds. Only a small part of the population survived in remote areas. Calculations of Mao Zedong was justified: the following season proved to be extremely fruitful. Chinese Newspapers in full praise of the wisdom of his political leadership. However, farmers noticed that fields have become much more insects. Then the pests have multiplied to such an extent that the harvest of 1960 was destroyed, not having time to ripen. The entire population of China hastily sent into the field to collect caterpillars and to deal with the locusts. But the people in this business do not go to any comparison with the sparrows. All the efforts of the people of China were in vain.

the country began a hunger. According to official data, due to the shortage of food in the 1960-1961 years in China, died about 20 million people. Russian and Western scientists call even more terrible figure — about 30 million lives. So China has paid off with nature for trying to destroy an entire species of birds. People on their own experience convinced that the sparrows bring much more benefit than harm. Judith Shapiro wrote: “the Chinese often mention the campaign against the “four pests” as the cause of ecological imbalance in the country. The massacre of sparrows remained a ridiculous episode in a useless mobilization of human energy with the aim to dramatically change the world”.

Awareness of errors

Yes, the sparrows eat the grain, but without them there is uncontrolled growth of the number of insects that can destroy the entire crop. The Chinese realized this pretty quickly. Birds were removed from the “four pests” and replacing it with numerous campaign posters bedbugs or cockroaches. A massive campaign to exterminate the sparrows was curtailed. The Chairman Mao indirectly admitted the mistake. The decree of the CPC Central Committee “About the hygienic measures” dated 18 March 1960 contained an order to destroy the rats, flies, … mosquitoes and bugs. The leadership of China was forced to turn to the Soviet Union and Canada for help. And the Chinese have not received the denial. Upon entering the situation the country is in a real ecological disaster, the Soviet authorities sent in several cars with caught sparrows. Located in the white “settlers” quickly adapted and multiplied, given the huge forage base. But only a few years the number of small birds in China fully recovered. Realizing the lessons of past mistakes, the people of China were kind to the sparrows, organized a massive campaign to protect them.
In 1988, a textbook for primary classes was supplemented by the section “Rehabilitating sparrows”. It said that Cheng TSO-Hsin, was the only scientist who dared speak aloud to the protection of birds, despite the instructions of Chairman Mao. Vera is known ornithologist in the scientific truth found recognition, his achievements are not forgotten.

However, large-scale destruction of certain species of animals or plants (not to mention the genocide of entire peoples) “famous” in different countries. The same exterminating sparrows, and in 1744 on the orders of Prussian king Frederick II the Great. But the scope and organization of the campaign, which began on the orders of Mao Zedong, and the extent of the devastating impact his policies have on the ecosystem, remain unsurpassed.

Origanum Tanatarova

© Russian Seven

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