Dictator’s order to eliminate all sparrows failed horribly—instead, 78 million starve to death
In Chinese culture, the little sparrow has been looked upon with much affection, and the bird has been depicted in Chinese paintings as a symbol of hope and happiness for hundreds of years. One misguided dictator decided to decimate them, and as a result, millions of people died from the domino effect.
The Great Sparrow campaign, also called the “Kill a Sparrow” campaign, was instigated in China in 1958 by Mao Zedong, founder and first dictator of the Chinese Communist Party. The program resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of sparrows.
The Daoist traditions of ancient times saw people live in harmony with nature, but Mao had other ideas. “Make the high mountain bow its head; make the river yield the way,” Mao said in 1958.
After the communist party had been in power for nine years, Mao initiated the Great Leap Forward, a plan to change China from a country of farmers into a modern industrialized society. He herded millions of people into communes, children were put into childcare run by workers, while most everyone else was assigned to small farming cooperatives or manufacturing. Many were forced into making steel in backyard furnaces, private farming was banned—and the results turned out to be catastrophic.
As part of Mao’s hygiene campaign, sparrows were targeted for elimination after he heard they were eating grains. He expected all citizens to take part, so they obeyed, and began shooting them down.
Some banged pots and pans to prevent them sleeping so they fell exhausted from the trees, most died because they were chased away, and kept in the air until they became so tired they just dropped down. Their nests were destroyed, eggs smashed and young chicks killed. Hundreds of millions of sparrows were killed.
Two years later, the leaders of the CCP realized that the sparrows had been eating insects as well. Such insects were now without natural predators. The ecological balance was severely disrupted. Bed bugs began destroying crops, and Mao Zedong switched his eradication program to target them, but by now it was too late. Locusts in swarms also descended on the countryside, and as there were no sparrows left to eat them, they also decimated the crops.
People ran out of food to feed their families, and as a result, up to 45 million people died from starvation. Some estimates go as high as 78 million.
Chinese reporter Yang Jisheng chronicled China’s Great Famine by secretly collecting official evidence of the famine for over a decade.
“Documents report several thousand cases where people ate other people,” Yang says. “Parents ate their own kids. Kids ate their own parents. And we couldn’t have imagined there was still grain in the warehouses. At the worst time, the government was still exporting grain.”
“At first when I was writing this book, it was difficult. But then I became numb. When you are writing history, you can’t be too emotional. You need to be calm and objective,” he says. “But I was angry the whole time. I’m still angry.”
His book Tombstone is banned in China—much like any other book that reveals the crimes of the CCP—such as the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, which is the most comprehensive publication on the true history of the CCP.
An excerpt from the publication’s foreword reads: “Since coming to power, the CCP has employed similar artifices in every single movement, including its elimination of counter-revolutionaries (1950–1953), the ‘partnership’ of public and private enterprises (1954–1957), the Anti-Rightist Movement (1957), the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), and, most recently, the persecution of Falun Gong, which began in 1999.”