1958: Hundreds of millions of Chinese were mobilized to “eliminate the four pests” – rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows.
Sparrows? Why sparrows?
Because sparrows ate much-needed grain.
Communist Party officials coordinated adults and children to bang pots and pans and yell and shout and make such a din that the frightened birds eventually dropped from the sky with exhaustion.
Too late, party cadres realized that sparrows, besides eating some grain, also ate many insects. “We began to notice something strange,” recalled an electrician at a paper mill. “The trees were covered with whitish webs made by some sort of worm or caterpillar. And soon there were millions of these . . . falling into your hair and down your neck. At the mill you had to carry your food across a courtyard from the kitchen to the mess hall. When you reached your table, you’d find these caterpillars floating around in your soup and mixed up with the mushrooms in your noodles.”
Source: Stanley Karnow, Mao and China: Inside China’s Cultural Revolution (1984), p. 97