In the annals of REALLY BAD IDEAS:

io9 – Secret Histories: China’s Worst Self-Inflicted Environmental Disaster: The Campaign to Wipe Out the Common Sparrow

To wit:

Back in the 1950s, China was going through its Great Leap Forward, an effort to transform China from a largely agrarian nation to a thriving industrial Marxist powerhouse.

DOT. DOT. DOT. We’ve been here before. Anyway:

Chinese leader Mao Zedong initiated the Four Pests campaign after reaching the conclusion that several blights needed to be exterminated — namely mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows. While many people nowadays would regard tampering with the ecosystem in such a radical way as a shockingly irresponsible idea, this was a classic case of something appearing like a good idea at the time. And according to environmental activist Dai Qing, “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.”

Again, Mao’s less than a team player. Been here before too. But anyway:

Chinese scientists had calculated that each sparrow consumed 4.5kg of grain each year — and that for every million sparrows killed, there would be food for 60,000 people. Armed with this information, Mao launched the Great Sparrow Campaign to address the problem.


To accomplish this task, Chinese citizens were mobilized in massive numbers to eradicate the birds by forcing them to fly until they fell from exhaustion. The Chinese people took to the streets clanging their pots and pans or beating drums to terrorize the birds and prevent them from landing. Nests were torn down, eggs were broken, chicks killed, and sparrows shot down from the sky. Experts estimate that hundreds of millions of sparrows were killed as part of the campaign.

Really great! Oh wait!

By April of 1960, it started to become painfully obvious to the Chinese leaders that the sparrows, in addition to eating grains, ate insects.


Lots of insects.

Oh them.

Locust populations swarmed the countryside with no sparrows in sight. Things got so bad that the Chinese government started importing sparrows from the Soviet Union. The overflow of insects, plus the added effects of widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides, were a significant contributor to the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961) in which an estimated 30 million people died of starvation.

And I’m sure nobody could’ve seen that coming, hey hey?

Click through to read the whole thing. Bonus! Amazing propaganda poster. I’m not gonna bother translating so I’ll only say that I hope it’s related to the Great Sparrow Revolution and not generic.