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The Pests We Need

In 1958, Mao Zedong ordered the extermination of every sparrow in China. He could scarcely have guessed the magnitude of the disaster he had set in motion. They called it “The Four Pests Campaign.” As part of the Chinese Communist Party’s notorious “Great Leap Forward,” the public health effort called for the elimination of disease-carrying rats and flies, malaria-ridden mosquitoes, and sparrows, which ate grain seed and fruit. A propaganda poster from the time reading “Exterminate the four pests!” depicts the four pests, impaled like grotesque shish kebabs on a Chinese sword. In another, a boy aims his slingshot, a dastardly sparrow in his sights.

Urged on by their leaders, the people shot sparrows from the sky by the thousands and hunted down and destroyed their nests. Children would bang pots and pans at sparrows resting in trees, chasing them until the little birds plummeted from the heavens, overcome by exhaustion. Within a year, the sparrow population in China had been decimated, pushed nearly to extinction.

At first, it seemed as though the plan had worked. But the problem was, sparrows eat more than just grain and fruit. They also eat many kinds of insects, including a species of short-horned grasshopper commonly known as locusts. With their natural predator gone, the locust population skyrocketed, and hordes of ravenous grasshoppers swept through the countryside, devouring everything in their path and contributing significantly to the Great Chinese Famine. By 1961, tens of millions of Chinese peasants would be dead—starved to death by a tragic convergence of economic mismanagement and ecological imbalance.

Possible Preaching Angle:

What we see as unnecessary trouble or a thorn in the flesh, God allows into our lives because he can use it to refine us, strengthen us, and turn our hope toward heaven.

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