The Sparrow Massacre

The Four Pests Campaign

The Sparrow Massacre

 “The whole people, including five-year old children, must be mobilized to eliminate the four pests.” -Mao Zedong, 1958

 "Exterminate the four pests!", 1958, Ding Hao (丁浩)

Within the Great Leap Forward was a new Patriotic Health Campaign known as the Four Pests Campaign. This plan sought to eliminate animals that spread diseases, including rats, mosquitoes, flies, and sparrows. Mao prioritized sparrows because they also ate grain that could be sold, traded, or eaten.

“So this feathered “counter-revolutionary,” a menace to the five year plan, no less, is condemned in communist China, along with the fly,  rat and the mosquito.”  -The New York Times, 1958 

The Four Pests Campaign was the first of its kind, leveraging health as a political goal to influence industrial production. The campaign used the pre-established connection of health to patriotism in order to mobilize citizens.

Personal interview with Patriotic Health campagin expert Mary Augustas Brazelton, 2020

"Wipe Out the Four Pests, Promote Health, Change Traditions and Customs, and Transform the World!," 1960, The Health Propaganda Office

In 1958, Mao directed Chinese citizens to eliminate sparrows and other pests, breaking ecological barriers. 

"Mao knew nothing about animals. He didn't want to discuss his plan or listen to experts. He just decided that the 'four pests' should be killed."
-Environmental activist Dai Qing, 2004

Personal Interview with ecologist Sacha Heath, 2020

Chinese officials and the Red Guard paramilitary force began the propaganda campaign by putting up posters, signs, billboards and ads telling people to take up arms against these supposed pests. 

"The Life Cycle and Danger of the Four Pests," 1958, Patriotic Health Movement Committee

"In the Great Spirit of Changing Customs and Transforming the World, We Vigorously
Take Part in the Health Campaign," 1959, Health Propaganda Office of
Heilongjiang Province.

"Mobilize Every Household, Everyone Lends a Hand and Wipes Out the Four Pests!," 1958-
1960, Red Cross and the Health Propaganda Office of the Health Department of Shandong

“At 5 a.m. bugles sounded, cymbals crashed, whistles trilled. The massed students beat their kitchenware and advanced.” - Time, 1958 ​​​​​​​

Mao promised that for every million sparrows killed he'd feed 60,000 citizens sparking active participation in the campaign. Citizens banged pots and pans, chased birds to exhaustion, and used slingshots and guns to kill the sparrows.

"Xiamen," Fujian, 1958

"More than 400,000 grain-eating sparrows were wiped out in the three day all-out war on them which ended April 21, 1958, 1,370 sparrows eliminated in the first day by peasants," Sovfoto/Universal Images, 1958

Experts supported Mao’s campaign for fear of Mao's Red Army who followed his every command and violently silenced opposition.

"Scientists show not a sign of weakness, even walking in the forefront to fight sparrows and win the great victory." -Scientist Zheng Zuoxin, 1958