Chinese Sparrow Experiment

kuiken at kuiken at
Wed Sep 14 11:12:29 EST 1994

In Article <Cw2v5J.23K at>
odonnell at (Kevin O'Donnell) writes:
>I was talking to some colleagues about this 'experiment' which I can
>remember seeing as part of a TV programme for schoolchildren on ecology
>(i.e. it was not yesterday).  I wonder if any readers of this forum 
>recognise the incident from the following description and could either
>provide, or point me towards, some publications on it.
>As far as I can recall, what happened was this.  Chairman Mao had become
>concerned about the amount of agricultural produce eaten by sparrows (?) 
>and ordered that they should all be killed.  The programme had some 
>incredible footage of crowds running around with swatters, rattles etc.
>which prevented the sparrows from roosting.  I distinctly remember film
>of piles of exhausted sparrows being shoveled onto trucks, presumably to
>be incinerated.
>The end result was .... that the crops were eaten by the caterpillars 
>that the sparrows had been keeping in check.
>The story has stayed with me for 20 years, partly becuase of the footage 
>,partly because it's such a good illustration of the dangers of 
>tampering with ecosystems and partly because it's such a good fable of
>human folly.
>I wonder how much of what I remember is an accurate recall of what I saw,
>or even whethwer the original programme was accurate.  Any takers?
>Kevin O'Donnell
>Scottish Agricultural Science Agency    
This footage was recently broadcast in Holland, in a filmed biography of
Mao. Your recollection is accurate; you might add that the people liked
to eat sparrows (and so had a feast in the year of the killing), but hated
the caterpillars, and so had no grain, no sparrows, and only disgusting
caterpillars the next year. I don't have any references, sorry.

Carla Kuiken
University of Amsterdam. 

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