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  • Writer's pictureNevada Ball

China's War on Sparrows: A Mistake which Cost Millions of People their Lives

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

The Great Leap Forward:

The year is 1958 and China begins the process of rapid industrialization beginning the transition from a mostly agrarian society to Chairman Mao's vision of a self-sufficient society. What is known as the Great Leap Forward (大躍進 a.k.a. Dà yuèjìn) which had two main objectives: to increase agricultural output to feed the growing population and to bring industry to all sections of the country. Staying true to its Communist ideals the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) instituted agricultural collectivization in which there would be no more private land and all crops would be owned and distributed by the state. To help with the industrialization, CCP leader Mao Zedong encouraged that farmers move away from their jobs in the farm to work in the factories, meanwhile, the ones who stayed behind would use "backyard furnaces" in which they would collect as much iron as they could and melt it down into "steel" but due to inexperience much of this "steel" was unusable.

A propaganda poster depicting the Great Leap Forward

(Brave the wind and the waves, everything has remarkable abilities)


Four Pests Campaign:

The Four Pests Campaign ( 除四害 aka Chú Sì Hài) was one of the first actions taken under the Great Leap Forward. It named four pests: Rats, Mosquitoes, Flies, and Sparrows (The Eurasian tree sparrow) which either carried diseases or damaged food supplies. The campaign called for the eradication of all four pests and in the Sparrow's case, this was done to protect grain supplies since the bird liked to feed on grain. Citizens would resort to banging pots or making a lot of noise to not give the sparrows a suitable resting place so that they'd "drop dead from the sky". In addition to this, the bird's nests were destroyed and in many cases, they were shot right out of the air. Contests were also held to see who could kill the most sparrows the winner of which would receive a prize. One instance of this was when the Polish embassy in Beijing refused to let the Chinese government inside to get rid of the sparrows so a couple of Chinese citizens stood outside of the gates and banged drums until the sparrows dropped dead and the embassy would have to later clean up all of the dead sparrows. This led to a near extinction of the birds within China and the sparrows were no longer a threat but the damage was already done.

The four pests pictured in a propaganda poster


Lasting effects:

One thing Mao and the CCP failed to consider was that the birds not only liked to feed on grain they liked to feed on insects too. With one of their main predators gone the insect population boomed most notably locusts which also like to feed on grain and are harder to get rid of than sparrows. Most notably in the year 1960, the weather was near-perfect for a large harvest but swarms of locusts ravaged the grain yields and left the country in short supply of grain unable to properly distribute enough to its citizens. This would be one of the main factors in the Chinese Great Famine. Not much is known about how many people died in this famine with the death tolls ranging from 15 million (about the same as the number of people who died in the Holocaust) to around 55 million (which is if you were to take everyone who died in WW1 and everyone who died from the Black Plague in the 1340s and add a few million on top of that). Needless to say, the eradication of sparrows devastated China and has left the CCP trying to cover up their massive failure in judgment to this day.


Another notable example of this would be the Australians attempt at curving their emu population (which also was the result of the bird's threat to grain production) but contrary to what happened in China the Australian government was not as successful at eliminating their emu population.

A more modern comparison would be the outbreak of Locusts within the Arabian peninsula and Eastern Africa which was the result of nature (Cyclone Mekunu) contrary to the man-made boom of locusts.

The failure of the Great Leap forward is another example of why people shouldn't disrupt nature as in turn they could cause catastrophic unseen effects that could cause even more suffering.


Hello everyone! I am a new writer here at History University. I would like to know how I did and what I can improve! If I got anything wrong feel free to point it out for me in the comments.


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