China Paid Dearly for Mao’s Failure to Respect Nature
Posters were plastered all across China, encouraging the masses to wipe out sparrows. Millions, armed with sticks, stones, slingshots, and noisemakers, went after them with a will. The birds were slaughtered wherever they were found, on the ground, in trees or bushes, or in the air. Their nests were destroyed, their chicks killed, and their eggs smashed. To keep them from resting, organized groups loudly beat drums, gongs, pots and pans, until the tiny birds dropped dead from exhaustion. The relentless campaign brought sparrows to the brink of extinction – at which point it was realized that the whole thing was a bad idea.
Chairman Mao did not understand the natural world, and that led to disaster. In many ways, Mao despised nature, and thought it should give way to human needs and wants. The Maoist worldview actively pitted humans against nature. Mao’s government repeatedly urged people to “conquer nature“, and in 1958, he famously declared: “Make the high mountain bow its head; make the river yield the way“. In short, Mao was not exactly an environmentalist or conservationist. The idea that sparrows might have an important role in maintaining an ecological balance that benefitted people was alien to him and his acolytes.