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In 1958 Mao Zedong launched the Great Sparrow Campaign (打麻雀运动), as part of his Great Leap Forward. Sparrows, along with mosquitos, flies and rats, were identified as one of the Four Pests, and targeted for extermination with the aim of promoting better hygiene. The sparrow in particular, was accused of eating grain meant for human consumption, upsetting the balance of human agricultural production.
War against the sparrow was declared, first in rural areas and eventually within the urban centres. The entire population was instructed to fight the bird, with the chief tactic being death by exhaustion. Children were given rifle lessons in order to shoot the birds, and families were sent out in the mornings and evenings to wave flags, bang gongs, set off firecrackers and destroy nests, to prevent the flocks from landing. The campaign was a success of sorts, with 300,000 sparrows reported dead on the first day of the 'war' in Peking alone. An estimate suggests that 90% of the birds died from cardiac arrest, from fatigue or fright. Victory parades were held with each successful foray, while the radio played revolutionary anthems to encourage citizens in their task.
The war lasted two years, during which time almost the entire Eurasian House Sparrow population of China was decimated. The result was a direct increase in the number of insects, notably locusts, which swarmed the rice fields and destroyed swathes of crops, contributing greatly to the Great Chinese Famine, in which more than 20 million people died of starvation. By 1960, Mao replaced sparrows with bedbugs within his Four Pest schema.
No Sparrow Shall Fall is an ongoing exploration of the Sparrow War, through found images, video and text, with emphasis on disassembling and re-transmitting information via photocopy and multiple translation. It is a part of the Animal War series.
No Sparrow Shall Fall
16 page newspaper, 2014