Impact of Chinese Four Pests Campaign and Importance of Ecosystem

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Parvedge Haider

The Four Pests Campaign was one of the first actions taken in the Great Leap Forward[1] in China from 1958 to 1962. The then Chinese supreme leadership decided to conduct massive killing of four pests i.e. rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows with a suspicion that those had been causing diseases to the general people. Although the inclusion of Sparrow in the killing list was not logical, it was added with a consideration that these birds had been consuming away a huge amount of agricultural products. It created a severe ecological imbalance that became one of the causes of the Great Chinese Famine[2]. The campaign caused widespread famine, economic ruin and environmental changes.

After decades of civil war, world war and revolution, People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949[3]. In the 1950s PRC was eager to create the communist dreamland which Mao had promised. Among the many Five Year Plans and campaigns undertaken to achieve that goal, one of the remarkable catastrophes was known as the Four Pests Campaign.

The Great Leap Forward (Second Five Year Plan) was an economic and social campaign led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962. Chairman Mao Zedong launched the campaign to reconstruct the country from an agricultural economy into a communist society through the formation of people’s communes. Mao ruled enlarged efforts to multiply grain yields and bring industry to the countryside.

Photo-1: Chinese motivational posters

The above type of posters used to be circulated in a massive scale to convince the people about the upcoming happiness if they maintain full support of the Mao’s ideas. In doing so, four pests, Rats, Flies, Mosquitoes and Sparrows were targeted for full elimination[4]. This idea was also well circulated through the posters in all over the country.

Photo-2: Four pest killing posters

The people of China had been suffering numerous diseases like Bubonic Plague, Cholera, Schistosomiasis, Tuberculosis, Small pox, Malaria, Dengue for centuries. Mao’s decision of killing four pests developed some improvement in the disease figures. At the same time it generated other major problems by producing imbalance in the ecosystem. The people started taking the killing of pests including the sparrows as a game.

This four pest killing campaign seriously affected the Sparrows in all over the country.

Photo-3: Sparrows

There was a perception among the Chinese leaders about the sparrows that they ate grains, seeds and fruits which were cultivated by the hard work of the farmers. Since these were the easiest to kill, a large number of people started hunting them in groups, even there were competitions of killing the Sparrows.

Photo-4: Killing of Sparrows
Photo-5: Killing of Sparrows

There were killing of 1 billion sparrows, 1.5 billion rats, 100 million kilograms of flies and 11 million kilograms of mosquitoes by the four pest campaign[5]. The sparrow’s inherent role in the ecological balance was unrealized and resulted an unmitigated, well-orchestrated environmental disaster in China.

Photo-6: Ecosystem

Locusts and other small insects went unchecked and their large numbers devoured fields of grain.

In 1960, Mao Zedong ended the campaign against sparrows and redirected the fourth focus to bed bugs

The Great Chinese Famine is widely regarded as the deadliest famine and one of the greatest man-made disasters in human history, with an estimated death toll due to starvation ranges in the tens of millions. There was a death toll of 1.5 crore according to the official calculation and unofficially there were tragic death of 3 – 4.5 crore of people.

The “Four Pests” campaign was successful in achieving its primary goal of insect eradication. But one of the most successful public health campaigns in the history reached to an extraordinarily grave cost for the Chinese, ecologically and demographically.

After two decades of severe economic distress, including famine and food shortages, in the late 1970s, China embarked on an unusual agricultural experiment of wildlife farming. The state had little money to invest in scaling up livestock production. Instead, farmers were encouraged to collect wild animal like rats, civets, snakes, bats and others and breed them for home consumption and commercial markets. This long generated wild life consumption practice of the Chinese people has generated a question mark after COVID 19 has come to the scene.


Parvedge Haider
Researcher, CHT and Regional Politics


[1] The Great Leap Forward (Second Five Year Plan) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962. It was started by the Communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958 and ended in 1961. The Great Leap Forward failed to bring industrialization and the famine that it created killed millions of people. Some people think it to be the biggest famine in history.
[2] China’s Great Famine: the true story,, accessed on May 20, 2020.
[3] Establishment of the People’s Republic,, accessed on May 20, 2020.
[4] The four pests,, accessed on May 20, 2020.
[5] Paved With Good Intentions: Mao Tse-Tung’s “Four Pests” Disaster,,  accessed on May 20, 2020.
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