In 1958, Mao Zedong launched the Four Pests Campaign against rats, mosquitoes, flies and sparrows. The objective was to improve the health and hygiene of the Chinese population.
The Great Sparrow Campaign or Kill Sparrows Campaign was intended to improve crop yields, which it was thought were being depleted by sparrows feeding on them.
The Campaign galvanised the people into action and encouraged them to destroy eggs, kill young birds in their nests and for groups of people to work together (tens of thousands in some areas) to create noise and disturbance that would keep the birds in the air until they died of exhaustion or dehydration.
Such was the success of this campaign that China eliminated sparrows (and presumably other birds as well) within two years.
However, once the rejoicing had settled the people could see that far from greater crop yields, the crops were being destroyed at a far greater rate and on a much greater scale.
What was happening? Insects were eating the crops.
It was then that a respected Chinese ornithologist pointed out that the diet of sparrows was about 75% insects and 25% grain. The Sparrows were providing what we know call an ‘ecosystem service’. Left unchecked the insects were rampaging through the countryside reeking havoc on crops, which ultimately led to the Great Chinese Famine which claimed the lives of an estimated 20 million people.
The Chinese had managed to upset the ecological balance of nature and for that they paid the ultimate price.
Watch the documentary on YouTube