Mr. Li Baotian is sixty years old and was born in Beijing. When he was six years old, he and his family moved from Beijing to a place, close to Inner Mongolia, in the Jilin province. A that time, due to overpopulation in Beijing, people were forced to leave the city. Mr. Li recalls suffering as a child from wind and sandstorms every year. His wife is Mongolian and he has two sons (34 and 33) and a daughter (30). The whole family moved back to Beijing in 1999. But life was hard and, except for Mr. Li himself, the whole family moved back to Jilin province.
His family now makes a living as peasants, mainly growing grains like wheat. He still lives here in Beijing and works as a security guard. His task is to guard metal building materials for electricity poles. He has been guarding the same pile of metal components for four years now. His work hours are at night from 10 pm to 4 am; at his age he cannot do hard work at night anymore.
Going back to memories of his youth in Beijing he cherishes the memories of the kindergarten, especially of fireworks. He recalls a kind of fireworks called the “old man with a hat”. Light the tip of the head and the fireworks will bloom, very funny.
In 1958 the sparrow was labeled as one of the “four pests” (*). The government issued the command to all people to kill the sparrow. People stopped working and climbed on roofs and other places to scare the sparrow with firecrackers, gongs, drums and other noise making equipment to catch and kill them. Most of sparrows had nowhere to hide and finally, tired of flying, fell down dead. Mr. Li still has vivid memories of this period.
Mr. Li says his name used to be Li Xiaoping, but he had to change his name because the famous political leader Deng Xiaoping had the same first name. His new name Li Baotian is derived from the slogan “hold the red (Mao’s) book in your hand; plant the revolution”.
In those days his father was shot dead. Later the government rehabilitated his father’s reputation, giving him an honorable funeral and money with expressions of sympathy to the family.
(*) The “Four Pests campaign” has a long history. It is also known as the “Great sparrow campaign” or the “Chinese sparrow war”. In 1958, February 12, the Party’s Central Committee and the State Council issued the ”kill four pests (Chusihai) to emphasize hygiene instructions”. The aim was to exterminate four animals considered as harmful within a period of 10 years: flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows. In 1960 the sparrow was rehabilitated when it became clear that sparrows eat more bugs than grain and that bugs, especially the locust (a kind of grasshopper), now without a natural enemy, were destroying crops on a large scale. The sparrow was replaced by the bedbug and the four pests were from then on: flies, mosquitoes, rats and bedbugs. In 1998 some local campaigns replaced the bedbugs with cockroaches.