Skip to content
CityLab
Justice

Saving the Clangs, Songs, and Shouts of Old Beijing

Hutongs are disappearing but their sounds won't, thanks to Colin Chinnery's Beijing Sound History Project.  
A man selling drinks in a hutong in central Beijing
A man selling drinks in a hutong in central BeijingDavid Gray/Reuters

During Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward in 1958, Chinese citizens were encouraged to bang on pots and pans to drive the country's sparrows to death. Mao's thinking was that the tiny birds, along with rats, flies, and mosquitoes, were pests that ate grain seeds, which the people needed for food.

The sound of banging drove the birds from their nests to fly around until they dropped dead of exhaustion.