China's war against sparrows: when Beijing lost its mind and almost died of hunger ...

(To David Rossi)

Social media is a strange beast: write a historical-political editorial on Greta Thunberg and accuse you of not having mentioned the sources.

As if the story of the warm medieval period was an urban legend: when I quote Napoleon, I do not refer to his birth certificate!

Write about the rampant China of the new emperor Xi Jinping and accuse you of ... having offended Mao, defining the government of the Kingdom of half "wicked" and guilty of having "reduced to light the wealth" of that country1.

Undaunted, here I am talking about a war waged by China of the same Great helmsman towards the end of the Fifties: the one against the sparrows. In the sense of “Small passerine birds, with sturdy and pointed conical beaks, broad and beveled wings, and relatively short tails; the color of the plumage comes in various combinations of brown, beige, gray, white and black, sometimes even yellow ", stealing the definition from Wikipedia.

What do you mean ... the war on sparrows? Weren't the Communists committed to class struggle? Between a Ukrainian farmer and a Russian pope, did they also have time to devote themselves to the extermination of birds? And then ... why?

Let's go step by step ...

Let's talk about the regime of Mao Zedong, the author of the greatest massacres in human history:

  • Among the 2 and 5 millions of "counter-revolutionaries" killed between 1950 and 1952 (in addition to 6 millions disappeared in the "re-education" camps);
  • An incalculable number of deaths for the first five-year plan (1953-1958), in any case in the order of tens of millions;
  • 52 millions of deaths from hunger during the catastrophic Great leap forward (1959-1962), not to mention the millions of deaths killed among those who dared protest against the regime of the "four times great" man capable of destroying a quarter of China's GDP in two years;
  • Between 5 and 10 millions of deaths during the disastrous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), lasting until the death of the leader and cost the complete political and economic paralysis of the country2.

To paraphrase the words of Petronius of Sienkiewicz to the emperor Nero: To be born under Mao's government was an atrocious mockery, but to die of a natural death that was not hunger had to be a joy.

We can forgive him for having murdered the people and devastated the economy, destroyed an age-old culture and stung the world with the odor of his failed ideology ... but one thing we cannot forgive him: the useless massacre of small birds, his ridiculous justification , his administration incapable.

Mao had to stick to his absolute specialties: mass murder and persecution, concentration camps and terror. He had to maim your fellow men, but not look for class enemies among the animals.

Instead, Mao does this: since the common European sparrow feeds on wheat and evidently China lacked the labor to drive it out of the fields, here is the brilliant idea: in the 1958 the little bird was proclaimed "Reactionary agent in the service of capitalism"3 and made the object of a campaign of extermination conducted in a military way, when not directly by the military.

He was ordered to destroy the nests, to prevent the sparrows from resting on the ground to rest in such a way that they collapsed killed by exhaustion, to break their eggs ... Soldiers, students and workers were mobilized for this4 as one man.

Sources of the time tell this story like this: "At dawn, one day last week, the sparrows massacre began in Beijing, continuing a campaign that has lasted for months in the countryside. The objection to the sparrows is that, like the rest of the inhabitants of China, they are hungry. And so divisions of soldiers lined up in the streets of Beijing, their steps stifled by sneakers with rubber soles. Students and public servants in high-collared tunics and schoolchildren carrying pots and pans, ladles and spoons, quietly took their stations. The total force, according to Radio Beijing, was 3 million "5.

When foreign embassies (yes, the diplomatic legations ... it is not a way of saying) they became asylum for the poor birds, tens of thousands of activists lined up with drums and pots to make noise to prevent the sparrows from resting on the ground and doing them to die of fatigue. The employees of foreign representations took away the bodies of birds to buckets every day ...

After nearly two years, Chinese scientists were able to get a hearing and explained that sparrows feed on pests and without them the rice crop would have been attacked by pests. Too bad the council arrived after a collapse in the production of 10 and 15% ...

War lost, at the cost of a useless extermination, even a harmful one, a mass mobilization that took forces away from production and a destruction of reason worthy only of ... the Mao regime.

1 In truth, along with the "civil wars", a historical period that goes from 1927 to 1950: some imaginative readers wrote that we would forget the Second World War. Dear Eurocentrics, consider that what for us is so, has very different definitions for the rest of the world. For the Russians, for example, it is the Great Patriotic War.

2 A reader praised the "liberal" way in which China handles ethnic-linguistic minorities: do we want to talk about the 600.000 Tibetan Buddhist monks killed after the 1950? Better not, this time ...

3 It is not a joke: this was the official definition and taken very seriously.

4 In addition to fighting rats, flies and mosquitoes ...

5 The Times, 5 May 1958.

Photo: web