It looks somewhat strange that the order was centered into sparrows, rats, flies and mosquitoes, although all of those things have a point into the objectives the campaign had, I guess problems with locusts had to be way bigger than with sparrows in crops devastation before the campaign started. I mean, I hardly know about agriculture and I know how much of a threat they can be, even nowadays, much more it would be known on those times, that without considering the countless historical records about crops devastation by locusts.

So what's the reason they were left out in the campaign? It makes no sense that what was likely the biggest threat referring to crops devastation was left out intentionally, the most logical thing would have been a 5 pests campaign including the locusts according to the logic of the campaign.

Maybe it's just as simple as that it looked like they weren't the biggest problem and my guess is incorrect.

Thanks for your time.

  • 5
    Locusts are a periodic problem, the other four pests are a more constant and widespread problem.
    – Steve Bird
    Mar 13, 2017 at 15:08
  • 6
    You hardly know anything about farming? That's a lot more than Mao.
    – Ne Mo
    Mar 13, 2017 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


Any time anyone makes a "top N" list, there are endless complaints about why X was left out or why Y is in the list (but not X). It's very hard to address these complaints. In this case, you could level the same complaint about why cockroaches weren't in the list, or bed bugs, lice, ticks, and so on.

Here's why sparrows were included: they were a common agricultural pest, eating large amounts of grain, and for the rural-obsessed Mao, were especially worth eradicating. He's not alone in campaigns against sparrows; Frederick the Great once tried by introducing a bounty for sparrow heads, but once the sparrows were gone from his country, other insects like caterpillars proliferated, forcing him to import sparrows from foreign countries. The US, after introducing sparrows in the 1850s, faced a zoological catastrophe and sparked a bitter "sparrow war" in the 1870s - the birds ate everything, and not just the insect pests they were supposed to.

So it made sense for sparrows to be at least considered a pest during 1950s China, even though there was vigorous opposition by some Chinese scientists, citing previous experience from Australia, Prussia, and the U.S. on sparrows and other introduced species. It's easy to take our present ecological knowledge for granted, and ignore the reality that just a few generations ago, we were committing ecological blunders all over the place. Typical for Mao at the time, he ignored the experts and went ahead without caution, and the rest is history.

Ironically, the near-extinction of sparrows in China caused insects like locusts to proliferate. So that's why locusts weren't included - because the sparrows were around.

  • Do we have a source for the last paragraph? It is plausible but other reasons are plausible too. Mar 14, 2017 at 7:02
  • That's going to be very hard to prove. I'm not aware that anyone addressed why X wasn't in the 4 pests, whether X is locusts or something else. The primary sources only explain why those particular 4 were chosen. The origin of the 4 pests is from a notice Mao made in 1955 called "seventeen opinions", which included the same 4 pests, so as far as I can tell, Mao pulled those out of his ass. Mar 14, 2017 at 14:03

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