A Mao Brainstorm That Led to Disaster
When the communists seized China in 1949, they sought to restore its prestige after a period of weakness known as “the Century of Humiliations. So in 1958, Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward, a revolutionary modernization campaign to leapfrog China from a peasant economy into an industrial giant. To kick off the modernization and increase efficiency, “The Four Pests Campaign” was launched, to exterminate flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. Flies, mosquitoes, and rats spread diseases, and rats also ate and ruined grains.
Sparrows were included because they also ate grains and fruits. However, their extermination was a bad idea. Mao’s government calculated that each sparrow ate about four pounds of grain per year, plus an indeterminate amount of fruits eaten or ruined by their pecking. Multiply that by hundreds of millions or billions of sparrows, and that is a whole lot of lost grain and fruits. So sparrows were designated as one of “Four Pests”, and a merciless eradication effort was launched against them.