RED CHINA: Death to Sparrows

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"No warrior shall be withdrawn until the battle is won," proclaimed the Peking People's Daily. "All must join battle ardently and courageously; we must persevere with the doggedness of revolutionaries." Into battle, thus exhorted, went the Chinese millions to wage war on the lowly sparrow.

At dawn one day last week, the slaughter of the sparrows in Peking began, continuing a campaign that has been going on in the countryside for months. The objection to the sparrows is that, like the rest of China's inhabitants, they are hungry. They are accused of pecking away at supplies in warehouses and in paddyfields at an officially estimated rate of four pounds of grain per sparrow per year. And so divisions of soldiers deployed through Peking streets, their footfalls muffled by rubber-soled sneakers. Students and civil servants in high-collared tunics, and schoolchildren carrying pots and pans, ladles and spoons, quietly took up their stations. The total force, according to Radio Peking, numbered 3,000,000.

At 5 a.m. bugles sounded, cymbals crashed, whistles trilled. The massed students beat their kitchenware and advanced, as Radio Peking recounted, singing a rousing, revolutionary anthem: "Arise, arise, Oh millions with one heart; braving the enemy's fire, march on."

The massive extirpation force netted and scatter-gunned the exhausted birds or snared them with long, gum-tipped bamboo poles. At last report 310,000 sparrows had fallen in Peking alone, and an estimated 4,000,000 throughout the rest of Red China. The national hero was Yang Seh-mun, 16, of Yunnan. He had killed 20,000 sparrows by sneaking around during the day locating nesting trees. At night, China Youth proudly reported, he then climbed trees and strangled whole families of sparrows with his bare hands.