, oil paint and ink on canvas, wood, and aluminum, with barbed wire,
Each morning in the parks of Beijing older men arrive carrying songbirds in
waiting for the right moment to uncover the birds and expose
them to the light
of a new day so they might outsing one another. One has the
sense that in generations
past the birds would have been eagles or hawks - birds
of prey - and the men Manchu
warriors. Today bringing songbirds to parks is a leisure pursuit, but when the cages
are uncovered the vestiges of some ancient competition are revealed. In 1958 the
Communist Party decided that there were
too many sparrows in China, competing
with its people for grain. "Kill the
sparrows to save your crops," Mao said. Millions of peasants and city dwellers destroyed nests, killed nestlings, and banged pots and pans
in order to frighten
the sparrows and keep them aloft. Because sparrows can remain in continuous
flight for only a short time before dying of exhaustion, an estimated four
million birds perished in Mao's campaign to rid the land of the counterrevolutionary
sparrow. Most literally fell from the sky. The ecological consequences, of
course, were disastrous: it turned out that sparrows had been the people's
all along, eating mostly insects. Mao's countermanding order to stop the
was simple: "Forget it." With the politically rehabilitated sparrows gone,
however, insects ate the grain and famine set in.
Beautiful Barbarians (Pu Sa Man)
Trees shading trees, mist-smoke weaves.
Cold mountains, a belt of heartbreaking green.
Dusk enters a high tower;
In it someone grieves.
All alone upon the jade terrance;
Homing birds return in haste.
Where is the way to return?
Long rest, short rest, bower after bower.
Surrounded by Mountains, ink and minerals colors on rice paper on silk,
(painted on the floor of the ancient Dunhuang Caves near the Gobi Desert in China)