If you were a farmer and local wildlife were gnawing away at your crops, what would you do to fix the problem?
In 1958, Chinese leaders had just launched the Great Leap Forward, a movement that aimed to boost the economy through large industrial and agricultural changes. One of the first campaigns to be launched in this initiative was the Four Pests Campaign.
Leader Mao Zedong initiated the campaign after concluding that four pests – mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows – were blighting crops and needed to be eliminated. Sparrows especially were blamed for their love of eating grain seeds.
With this conclusion, the population was called upon to kill these pests. Scarecrows and red flags were put up to frighten away the sparrows, while firing zones were set up for shooting sparrows.
One citizen recorded in his diary that people “banged [their] gongs, drums, washbasins, and anything else that could make loud noises. The sparrows were forced to keep flying until they dropped dead from fatigue.”
However, after thousands of sparrows were killed, the crops started dwindling, rather than increasing. By 1960, scientists discovered that sparrows’ diets were composed of three-quarters insects, and only one-quarter grains. So Mao replaced the sparrow with bed bugs on the list of four pests in hopes of improving the situation.
But it was too late.