Why did Mao Zedong kill sparrows

Died 44 years ago Mao Zedong: the man who liberated China and plunged it into misery

When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the joy was real: Mao promised the Chinese the end of hunger and new self-confidence. Germans, Russians, Americans, French and English had occupied the country for decades, exploiting its raw materials and labor. Wars and civil war have plunged the once proud cultural nation of China into misery.

There were millions of refugees in the country. The average life expectancy was 35 years. You can say that China was one of the poorest countries in the world at the time, if not the poorest.

Prof. Felix Wemheur, sinologist

The first task for the new government under Mao Zedong is clear: food has to be found for six hundred and fifty million people. Mao carries out a land reform and gives the farmers land - this quickly leads to visible success and makes him popular. This popularity ensures that he has a following in his campaigns, which sometimes seem very strange.

Mao declares war on sparrows

In 1957, the sparrow is identified as an enemy that eats away grain and thus prevents the harvest from turning out even better. Millions of Chinese are called to keep making noise until the sparrows fall from the sky, exhausted because they do not dare to land. Two billion birds are said to have been killed in this way. The insects then multiply. Mao sees his mistake, but has many new ideas.

"People have tried to combine industry, agriculture and administration in people's communes, and they thought that would be the basic cell of the future communist society," says Felix Wemheur, professor of modern China studies at the University of Cologne. In the People's Commune, everyone does everything together. Mao freed his compatriots from foreign rule, but immediately made them slaves to his ideas again. Drill and work, life in a collective - that is the new everyday life.

One has dreamed of creating a new universal man who is worker, farmer and intellectual.

Prof. Felix Wemheur, sinologist

In 1958, the universal people who are in the process of becoming are called upon to make the big leap - the leap to communism, the leap into the 20th century. China is to change from an agricultural country to an industrial nation. "The idea was, if you mobilize these millions of farmers, that what the West has done in 100 years can be done in the shortest possible time," says Wemheuer.

Famine due to unsuccessful steel campaign

In Mao's opinion, what was missing was steel. And that should now be made in the villages in small blast furnaces made of clay by farmers - who were also workers. "The problem, however, was that they produced very inferior steel and that agriculture was neglected and the harvest was badly collected," said Wemheuer, the China expert and author of a Mao biography. The big leap therefore ends in a catastrophe: In the end there is neither steel nor grain, but one of the greatest famines on earth: 30 million people are starving in China. During this time, many farmers lose their belief in Mao and the communists.

Red Guards and Cultural Revolution

Mao's support in the party is beginning to crumble. Nevertheless, he strikes a big blow. He can still rely on China's successfully "educated" youth, which he used in 1966 for his last campaign: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. With an unparalleled personality cult, he swears the young Chinese to his leadership. They join forces to form the Red Guards and, supported by the police, are supposed to take action against the so-called "Four Olds": the old ideas, the old culture, the old customs, the old habits.

In the collective madness, students mercilessly hunt down all suspicious elements. Children denounce their parents, friends extradite each other, teachers are tortured to death by schoolgirls. The exact number of victims is still not known. Estimates range from a few hundred thousand to ten million.

After three years of violent orgy, all opposition has been destroyed. Now Mao is showing his true colors - the young Red Guards have done their part. He sends his army against the cultural revolutionaries and the young fighters to the countryside for re-education.

China under Mao - a huge laboratory

Mao ruled China for twenty-five years. During this time he kept the Chinese in suspense with his ever new campaigns and the cult around himself. He constantly initiates re-education campaigns, keeps making new promises for the future, spreads pathos and simple worldviews. In the Mao period, China is like a large laboratory.

I think when Mao died the society was so drained from the constant campaigns and the people were so tired from this uninterrupted revolutionary rhetoric and vigilance that it was a relief to breathe through the country.

Prof. Felix Wemheur, sinologist

The sigh of relief after Mao's death in 1976 culminated in his successor's economic opening to the West: in what the Chinese themselves called "socialist market economy with Chinese peculiarities".