A Soviet scientist on the ‘Four Pests’ campaign (1964)

Mikhail Klochko was a Soviet specialist who worked as an advisor to the People’s Republic during the 1960s. In his 1964 book Soviet Scientist in China, Klochko described the communist campaign against the ‘Four Pests’:

“The Campaign against the Four Evils began before my arrival in Beijing. During my first days in the city, my eye was caught by large posters with a picture of a woman in military uniform, a solemn and imperious lady pointing sternly at pictures of a rat, a sparrow, a fly and a gnat – all four of which were crossed out with heavy red slashes, which meant that the government and Party were calling for their extermination…

Several days later… I was awakened in the early morning by a woman’s blood-curdling screams. Rushing to my window, I saw that a young woman was running to and fro on the roof of the building next door, frantically waving a bamboo pole with a large sheet tied to it. Suddenly, the woman stopped shouting, apparently to catch her breath, but a moment later, down below in the street, a drum started beating, and she resumed her frightful screams and the mad waving of her peculiar flag. This went on for several minutes; then the drums stopped and the woman fell silent. I realized that in all the upper storeys of the hotel, white-clad females were waving sheets and towels that were supposed to keep the sparrows from landing on the building.

This was the opening of the Anti Sparrow campaign. During the whole day it was drums, gunshots, screams and waving bedclothes, but at no time did I catch sight of a single sparrow. I cannot say whether the poor birds had sensed the deadly danger and taken off beforehand to some safer ground, or whether there had never been any sparrows in the first place. But the battle went on without abatement until noon, with all the manpower of the hotel mobilised and participating – bellboys, desk managers, interpreters, maids, and all.

The strategy behind this war on the sparrows boiled down to keeping the poor creatures from coming to rest on a roof or tree, thereby forcing them to remain constantly on the wing, for it was claimed that a sparrow kept in the air for more than four hours was bound to drop from exhaustion…

The whole campaign had been initiated in the first place by some bigwig of the Party who had decided that the sparrows were devouring too large a part of the harvests… Soon enough, however, it was realised that although sparrows did consume grain, they also destroyed many harmful insects… So the sparrows were rehabilitated. Rehabilitation, however, did not return them to life any more than it had the victims of Stalin’s bloody purges, and the insects continued to feast on China’s crops.”