To kill a Captain



Fifty-two years ago [i.e. : 1958], Mao Zedong […] decreed that all sparrows in the country were to be killed. He had decided China was to make a sudden surge in its economic development, which came to be called The Greap Leap Forward, and sparrows, which Mao thought ate too much grain, were getting in the way.

The bird concerned was not our house sparrow, Passer domesticus, but its close relative, our tree sparrow, Passer montanus, which in China replaces the house sparrow as the bird which lives with people […] China’s sparrows have always been regarded with tolerant affection – they were a favourite subject of Chinese painters for centuries – but in 1958 Chairman Mao decided they had to go.


His efforts to do that […] led to famine in which perhaps 30 million people died, and the affair of the sparrows might seem trivial in comparison, were it not for what it represents.

Nobody knows how many there were in China in 1958, but if there was one for each person, which seems reasonable, there would have been 600 million. Mao really tried to get rid of them all. He mobilised the entire population, who not only shot them and destroyed their nests but went out every evening with gongs and pots and pans to bang, so the birds would have nowhere to settle and roost, and would eventually die from exhaustion.

Millions of sparrows, maybe hundreds of millions, were killed. But the following year, 1959, it was noticed that insect infestation of crop fields had soared; pests such as locusts, which the sparrows ate, had lost a major predator. China’s Academy of Sciences produced reports on how many insects the birds ate, compared to how many seeds, and it became clear that killing sparrows was cruelly counter-productive; presented with the evidence, Mao called it off, but not before the already failing harvest had been even more reduced right across the country.

It was one of history’s most notable acts of hubris over the natural world.

[Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The sparrow that survived Mao’s purge sur]

Étrangement, il n’existe que peu d’informations sur cette histoire alors qu’elle est à l’origine d’une grande leçon d’humilité pour le genre humain et son ego démesuré.

Une petite vidéo (il semble y avoir désaccord sur les dates).

Il est ici question du moineau friquet (Passer monatus) qui, en Hexagone, est beaucoup moins connu que le moineau domestique (Passer domesticus) car comme son nom l’indique, le second n’hésite pas à fréquenter exclusivement la street pour se nourrir des rejets de l’homme; ce qu’explique cet article de la mairie de Paris, ou encore celui-ci, du Centre Ornithologique d’Île-de-France.

Le titre.

Posté le 9 avril 2014 par Jacques Danielle