Did Mao kill all the birds in China?

When I was in high school my history teacher once told us that in the 1950’s Mao was told that the communal farms weren’t meeting their production goals. His advisers told him that it was due to birds eating the crops, so farmers were ordered to wake up before sunrise and bang pots and pans together which would startle the birds and cause them to have heart attacks and die. The plan worked, but consequently the insect population went unchecked and the crops were devastated.

The story stretches credibility and I can’t find anything about it online. Anyone ever hear this one?

Never heard of it. But the story is absurd on the face of it. Loud noises don’t make small birds have heart attacks and die - at least, never in my experience, and I’ve seen an awful lot of small birds startled by loud noises. They generally just fly away.

Never heard that one, but my neighbor just got a new puppy last week. I asked her what kind it was and she told me it was a Havanese. She then proceeded to tell me how lucky she was to have this dog because it is a Cuban breed and Castro killed all the dogs in Cuba except one male and one female and all Havanese dogs are the descendents of these 2 who were spared. I’m not sure what she does for a living, but I hope she’s not a history teacher.

The Great Sparrow Campaign, part of the War of the Four Pests. 1958-1962

Sadly, many true (or truth-based) stories about Mao’s rule do this.

Here’s an interesting account by Sha Yexin, along with a couple photos. I can’t find it right now, but I’ve seen black and white film of peasants beating pots and pans to drive the birds to exhaustion. I think I saw it on a PBS program called “The Heart of the Dragon”; I remember it being in the “Eating” episode (in case someone else wants to try to find it).

From second link you posted:

Although these accounts give a bit more detail, it’s still mostly bullshit. I’d like to see something more than anecdotal accounts that sparrows actually “dropped dead of fatigue.” In most rural areas with extensive fields they would surely have been able to find at least some open areas where they could rest for a time without being chased.

Destroying nests would have had more of an effect on the population, so perhaps they actually might have succeeded in knocking back the sparrows somewhat. But even if the sparrows did eat some insects, they are not the only birds that do so. In particular, sparrows were almost certainly not taking locusts as a major part of their diet - locusts are too big. Insects in crop fields, especially locusts, would have been controlled by other birds, not sparrows. So any outbreak is very unlikely to have been caused by a decrease in the sparrow population.

While the campaign might have killed some sparrows, any link to insect outbreaks severe enough to cause a famine is certainly bogus.

I’m highly dubious. China endured many hare brained movements during the Maoist era. Scientifically, it stretches the imagination that this could really be coordinated across the country and have the intended effect of killing off the sparrows.

Keep in mind that in the 1950’s, there was a large trend to discredit the literati and elevate “common sense” peasant ideas. There was also tons of political in fighting. The success and lack thereof and blame for the mass famine was extremely political.

It is pretty widely accepted that the results of the “Great Leap Forward” are what caused the mass starvation. The 4 pests campaign took place during the Great Leap but was a small footnote compared to some of the real damage that took place.

I saw video once of this effort. It was a bunch of people making noise and chasing a bird around until it dropped and a group people stomped on it. How effective this would have been is fairly dubious, however, I think.

follow thiis link for film footage, or go you tube and enter the great sparrow campaign.

Clearly Mao did not kill all the birds in China. Although not absolutely impossible, even with more modern technology the feat would be impossible. Did Mao order the extermination of a lot birds? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t stretch the realm of credibility as far as believing that such a plan succeeded.

OTOH, the world powers engaged in numerous propoganda campaigns during the Cold War. The existence of such stories doesn’t make them even remotely true.

Well whatever they were doing was pretty effective at killing a bunch of sparrows. That farm truck was full to the brim with dead birds.

They were just pining for the fjords.

You sure? It could as easily have been full of straw with a layer of dead birds on top. The whole clip is so obviously propaganda bullshit I’d doubt every aspect of it.

I’m shocked to see bird holocaust deniers on this board.

Impossible, but not absolutely impossible…I like those odds :wink:

Based upon what China Guy said, I found this Wikipedia article: Four Pests Campaign. It looks like the claim in the OP is true, at least in outline (although the methods used seem to have extended well beyond banging pots and pans, and the only birds directly targeted were sparrows.) Here are some campaign posters.

I had not heard about the sparrows before, but I did somewhere hear that not only had there been a campaign to eliminate all the flies in China, but that it had been pretty much successful. I thought it sounded very far-fetched. The Wiki article does mention flies as one of the four pests that they tried to eliminate (the others were, apparently, rats and mosquitoes) but does not say anything about the success or otherwise of these aspects of the campaign: it concentrates almost entirely on the ecologically disastrous results of the anti-sparrow campaign.

. . . . .

After thinking about it, I am fairly sure I heard the story about the flies on an edition of the BBC radio show From Our Own Correspondent, which consists of “local color” type reports from BBC journalists based in various countries around the world. ISTR that the reporter claimed that even today (this would have been in the past two or three years), thanks to this campaign, there are virtually no flies in China. If so, this aspect of the campaign may have succeeded.

On the one hand, I am inclined to trust the veracity of BBC correspondents regarding most topics, but, on the other, I find the story very hard to believe. Surely, even if you did kill most of the flies over a year or two, they reproduce so fast that even a handful of survivors would have given rise to a full resurgence by now. Also, I would guess that elimination of flies would probably upset the ecological balance quite as much as elimination of sparrows apparently did (although I have no idea in what way). The BBC correspondent, living in China, claimed he never saw flies there. Could it be that there were never that many there in the first place?

Missed edit window:

This page implies that the anti-fly campaign (as opposed to the anti-sparrow one) may still be ongoing, and perhaps largely relies on children.

There was another show I once saw on PBS that said that Franco had all the rats in Spain shot.

Unless Chinese technology is miles ahead of where I imagine it, I doubt they had sparrow-seeking pots and pans back in the 50s. Farmers banging on de drums all day would drive away any and all birds away from their fields, not just sparrows.