China: Myths Surrounding the Anti-Sparrow Campaign (1958)

A Typical Sparrow Hunt

The West is awash with (primarily US-derived) Anti-China (and anti-Communist) stories, that depict Mao Zedong as an insane leader of a racially inferior and morally deficient Chinese race. Furthermore, so these maniacal narratives inform, but so stupid was this policy that 40 million Chinese died of a result of a famine caused by an influx of insects (which were no longer eaten by the sparrows). Even if the more obviously race-hate related issues are removed from these fictional narratives, the fact remains that it is the details contained within this mosaic of distortion, that provides the ‘accepted’ version of events in the West. The primary myths are:

  1. Mao Zedong was an insane dictator – not true – he was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China – which practised centralised democracy, and which regularly elected delegates to sit on various committees from the local level up to the national government. Just as ‘capitalism’ cannot be voted-out in the West (through the liberal, democratic process), ‘Communism’ cannot be voted-out in China (through the elections associated with centralised democracy).
  2. Communist China practises an insane type of ideology that is illogical – not true – Communist China pursues the path of ‘Scientific Socialism’, which advocates the society is governed solely by secular science and evolutionary theory. This approach rejects religious theology and ignorant superstitions as political ideologies as they arise from an ‘inverted’ bourgeois mind-set that has its origin in the false idea that a ‘god’ construct (or disembodied ‘thought’ in the head), created all of reality. Scientific development is for everyone and everything within a ‘Communist’ society, and not just the privileged or chosen few as is the case in bourgeois, capitalist societies.
  3. Mao Zedong conceived and initiated an insane agricultural policy in 1958 that ultimately led to a famine that killed millions – not true – not only was there no famine (an opposite reality to that suggested by various skewed bourgeois accounts), but Mao Zedong was not responsible for this policy.
  4. The Chinese people are an inferior race that act in a stupid and sub-ordinate manner to the superior ‘White’ race – not true – not only has science (particularly the genetics part of it) proven the fallacy of ‘race’ as a biological entity, but Karl Marx pointed-out that the bourgeoisie – the middle class that owns the means of production and which exploits the workers – invented the notions of ‘race’ and ‘nationalism’ as a means to keep the Working Class from uniting. It achieves this by instilling a sense of racial discrimination in the minds of the workers, so that various groups of proletariat spend their time fighting one another, rather than targeting the real architects of all their troubles – the bourgeoisie.
  5. Western agriculture does not use dangerous chemicals to kill and control insects, birds and rodents, as a means to keep designated ‘vermin’ off of farming land – not true – the capitalist Western farmers (which manufacture food for profit and not the well-being of humanity), use dangerous chemicals and highly questionable farming methods to kill insects and other animals all the time.
  6. Mao Zedong hated animals – not true – Mao Zedong (and his family) had been associated with Buddhism, and as a consequence of its proscription against harming any living creature, Mao was not naturally in favour of hurting animals.
  7. A final salient point is that whether in the capitalist West, or Communist China – exactly the same agricultural science is pursued (albeit driven by different motivations and objectives), that aims to maximise yield and minimise waste. In this pursuit, the profit driven West has come in for criticism over many decades, for its environmentally unfriendly policies, animal cruelty and poorly researched genetic modification of crops. Communist China, on the other hand, is well known throughout the world today for its sustainable farming methods, and regulations to protect farm-animal welfare.

From an academic position, however, virtually all these assumptions are incorrect and lacking any genuine Chinese language source material or references. As this is the case, this article references ‘three’ Chinese language papers, all covering different aspects of the 1958 anti-sparrow campaign. As most Western sources are bias and deficient, this article will provide the historical facts as experienced and preserved within Chinese academic sources.

The name of the 1958 ‘anti-sparrow campaign’ in the Chinese language is expressed as ‘打麻雀运动’ (Dǎ máquè yùndòng), – ‘Attack Sparrow Movement’ – or as ‘消灭麻雀运动 ‘ (Xiāomiè máquè yùndòng), which translates as ‘Eradicate the Sparrow Movement’. This campaign was part of the broader ‘Great Leap Forward’, which was announced by Mao Zedong during February, 1958 (and was planned to run until 1962). Four ‘pests’ or ‘vermin’ had been identified by the Chinese government as severely interfering with farming in China, and the production of good or ample harvests (particularly in relation to grains and cereals). To be eliminated alongside the sparrows were the rats, flies and mosquitoes. Although controlling or eradicating animals, birds and insects deemed ‘pests’ in the West is common-place (usually through the use of dangerous chemicals), China’s similar policy is treated with a racist scorn that ignores all the facts.  For instance, attributing this policy to Mao Zedong is historically and politically incorrect. On January 18, 1957, an article was published in the ‘Beijing Daily’, authored by the then Deputy Minister for Education – the renowned biologist – Zhou Jianren (周建人) and entitled ‘Do Not Doubt that the Sparrow is a Harmful Bird’ (雀是害鸟无须怀疑 – Què shì hài niǎo wúxū huáiyí). Zhou Jianren, speaking with the authority of a biologist, stated that the ‘Sparrows are a threat to farming, and should be eradicated without hesitation.’ This caused a debate at the highest levels of the government, with Mao Zedong being given different advice. On the one hand there was Zhou Jianren, who advocated ‘revolutionary’ action against the sparrows, whilst on the other, there were advisers (such as Zhu Xi – 朱洗) quite rightly stated that in different places and times in the West (including Czarist Russia, the USA and Australia) this kind of farming experiment had already been tried – and it had failed every-time. However, although Mao Zedong was not completely sure about this policy, (in his youth, Mao had advised peasants not to kill their oxen so that rich people could eat beef, but instead to keep them alive and well-fed to work as ‘living tractors’ for work on the land), others argued that the West had failed due to its decadence and emphasis upon selfish individualism, and that China could succeed due to its collectivist attitude and ideal of serving others. As matters transpired, the anti-sparrow policy did go ahead, but despite killing tens of millions of birds, the species simply managed to survive and adapt. Mao Zedong himself called a halt to the anti-sparrow campaign on March 16, 1960, switching to a policy of eradicating bed-bugs. This policy reversal was a result of the general insect population growing beyond normal bounds because the sparrows were no longer eating them. As regards the lies of huge famines, in reality people were eating the millions of sparrows that had been killed, providing a useful source of meat protein. At the time, this practice was wide-spread (until Mao effectively ‘protected’ the sparrows in early 1960), with the added bonus that sparrow meat was known to cure sore throats and chest infections.

Chinese Language References:打麻雀运动

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