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Sep 10

Netizens vote for sparrow as China’s national bird

Written by Nimrod on Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 at 6:37 am
Filed under:Analysis, culture, Environment, News | Tags:, , ,
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America has the Bald Eagle, a powerful symbol of might, individuality, and freedom — even if Benjamin Franklin thought it was a bird of “bad moral character” inferior to the Wild Turkey.

sparrowWhat does China have as a national bird? Well, it doesn’t yet.

The house sparrow, so common in China, and named one of the four vermin during the 1950’s (and killed en masse), has received a plurality of votes among ten birds in an unofficial online poll for China’s national bird. This has stirred up a conversation online about what constitutes a national bird, and more interestingly, about the national character and outlook of the common Chinese people.

Since 2003, the National Forestry Bureau and China Wildlife Protection Association have been soliciting (official and serious) candidates from various provinces for a National Bird of China. Some of the most popular candidates have been the red-crowned crane, the magpie, the hwamei, and the golden pheasant, with the crane being the most popular. However, allegedly due to the Latin name of the crane being Grus japonensis (Japanese crane), the decision to name a national bird has been delayed.

Then somebody on Tianya decided to hold an ad-hoc online poll where anybody can vote. Among 10 common birds found in China, the house sparrow emerged as the dark-horse “winner” (currently with 40.8% of the vote). Against the backdrop of this result, netizens have been piping up and hotly debating it. You can read the original comments in the link.

According to this summary, netizens are of two opinions. (I think the “for” party has more interesting things to say about the national character of the Chinese people, even more than about the national bird.)

The “for” party
jxsd512 wrote:

In my mind, the selection of a national bird doesn’t need to be restricted to those birds with high pedigree and beautiful coat. Our standard of selection shouldn’t be restricted to the external qualities (of birds), but also the internal qualities are important. And many common folks don’t know much about birds, whether it is a crane, a peacock, a pheasant or whatever, I’ve only seen them on TV and don’t know much about them.

But the sparrow is different. First, they are like much of the Chinese commonfolk: they have a superb ability to survive and refuse to be eliminated; they have a strength of character — just like the original poster said earlier — an indefatigable spirit. Whereas many precious birds easily go extinct if they are not careful. Bottom line, a national bird doesn’t need to be pretty. What it needs to have is spirit, a kind that is similar to that of the people of this country.

one night’s floating snow wrote:

Sparrows have a great ability to survive and will not go extinct. If we choose a protected species as a national bird, what would we do if it goes extinct? A national bird must not go extinct.

hurriedly Wuhan (who was the original poster) wrote:

If I had to choose, I would rather choose the sparrow. 1. Sparrows cannot be kept. Those caught in cages or leashed by a leg all end up refusing to eat or drink and die that way. I think that is a kind of strength of character. 2. Sparrows don’t have pretty feathers or sweet cries, but they quietly fight for daily livelihood. I think this is very much like the behavior of Chinese people. 3. Sparrows are the birds most intertwined with common Chinese folks. Who hasn’t come in contact with sparrows, from childhood to adulthood?

The “against” party
love_cctv wrote:

Sparrows are no good, they are too loud, too plain and gray. People even eat them. How can that be a national bird?

could it not be a plant wrote:

… I still remember a time when sparrows were one of the four vermin! If the sparrow becomes the natinoal bird, then what should our peasant uncles do when sparrows eat their crops? Should they shoot them or not? If they were shot dead, what would happen?

allwin2008 wrote:

Our country is a great and proud country, so we must choose a grandiose national bird, one with a deep moral story. Only the phoenix or the peacock or such high caliber birds can take the job. Sparrows are just little clowns. If they can be the national bird, it would be a great joke.

So what do you think?


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36 Responses to “Netizens vote for sparrow as China’s national bird”

  1. TommyBahamas Says:

    LOL…The “against” party really cracks me up! How about The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) ?

    古诗词中“燕子”意象

    燕属候鸟,随季节变化而迁徙,喜欢成双成对,出入在人家屋内或屋檐下。因此为古人所青睐,经常出现在古诗词中,或惜春伤秋,或渲染离愁,或寄托相思,或感伤时事,意象之盛,表情之丰,非其它物类所能及。

  2. A-gu Says:

    I love birds, especially urban birds that more people get a chance to have contact with. They are incredibly adept at surviving in urban conditions. That does not make the bird better or worse, of course; it’s just a particular fact about their diet and ability to navigate around an invasive species (people).

    My grandpa used to call House Sparrows “worthless birds,” because they multiply so much (at least 3 broods a season) and are so prevalent, stealing the nests of other birds and driving out the rarer Bluebirds from his area. But a bird’s gotta

    In short, I like the sparrow just fine, and think it would make a fine bird for any country (it is now the most widely distributed wild bird in the world). But at the same time, I understand people’s desire to use “majestic” birds as a national bird. Look at how the Formosan Magpie won out for Taiwan’s national bird vote, even though few people have ever seen one! I thought the White Wagtail would have been a much cooler choice, but it wasn’t even on the short list because it’s not endemic to Taiwan.

  3. FOARP Says:

    I would have thought the peacock more China’s style, given its imperial history, particularly with the award of peacock-feathers being a sign of favour from the emperor and with the way they feature prominently in paintings from ancient times. However, the reasons why you might not want to choose a bird synonymous with gaudy display are obvious. Being both numerous and assiduous, I can see why people might want to choose the sparrow. However, sparrows occur naturally across Eurasia and Africa, and early European settlers imported them into the Americas and Australasia, so you would have to find a particular subspecies native to China for it to be truly representative. Strangely enough I only just found out a couple of weeks ago from a closet bird watching friend of mine (I’d known him for years but had had no idea that he was a secret bird watcher) that the Robin is the UK’s national bird – personally I had always thought of the British Bulldog as a far better national symbol. The Bald Eagle might be America’s symbol, the French fighting Cock may be representative of France, and the Kiwi bird may recognisably stand for New Zealand, but I can’t think of many other countries where there is a real connection in the mind between the country and its national bird. If the sparrow is chosen I doubt such a link will exist in the minds of the Chinese people, a more colourful bird must be chosen. Otherwise, both the Panda and the mythical Chinese Dragon are good symbols of China.

  4. Netizen K Says:

    Sparrows are loud and numerous and people shoot them all the time. I did when I was small. You don’t want people to shoot a national bird, do you?

  5. Michelle Says:

    I think it’s a great choice, but I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s so unexpected? I thought sparrows have a reasonable reputation depite being one of the four vermins; I know two people with 燕 as their given name….

  6. wukong Says:

    @Michelle:

    燕 is swallow, not sparrow?

  7. kui Says:

    I like barn swollow. At least they eat insects not crops. Plus they fly in an elegant way. They are such beautiful birds with black and white suit. No one will get annoyed by them. They are beloved bird by Chinese.

  8. shenwen Says:

    Anyone remember the article in Chinese textbook?

    http://gb.cri.cn/3601/2004/07/20/109@237905.htm

  9. Charles Liu Says:

    So will eating sparrows grilled on a stick be a patriotic act? Or nationalistic act since it’s China?

    Brings new meaning to “you are what you eat”.

  10. Allen Says:

    Not the sparrows! If we just care about picking something that has low risk of going extinct, we should just get rid of the whole notion of a national bird for a national insect instead.

    I hear roaches, termites, and beetles will last us all… Maybe we should select one of those!

  11. Nimrod Says:

    What do you guys think about the comments on common Chinese people being like the sparrow? Resilient and essentially hard to kill off? Dark humor perhaps… but many people (at least on Tianya) feel a strong connection to that sentiment.

    The opening post by 武汉匆匆 on Tianya actually gives one more reason to choose the sparrow: they were marked as “bad” at the height of the revolution but the verdict was ultimately overturned, which was not unlike the experience of many Chinese under the People’s Republic.

  12. Charles Liu Says:

    So it’s a commentary on “turning over”(翻身), Like homage to Deng Shaoping?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but even Deng said something like “don’t forget Chairman Mao after you turn over”, no?

  13. Michelle Says:

    Wukong,

    Oops. I don’t even know the difference between sparrow and swallow in English… Thanks.

  14. TommyBahamas Says:

    FOARP,
    “a more colourful bird must be chosen. Otherwise, both the Panda and the mythical Chinese Dragon are good symbols of China.”
    They are aren’t they? I think the barn Swallow is beautiful, graceful, agile, romantic & loyal…..
    Robin makes sense for England. For some reason I thought the LION was the symbol of Britain, no?

  15. MoneyBall Says:

    I can atest for 1 thing, when I was little I captured all kinds of birds put them into cages, some of them may last months, but you can never put a sparrow into a cage, they refuse to eat and drink, die in 2 days, I felt so frustrated I would grab the thing force rice down their throats, they still die.

  16. Chops Says:

    The Formosan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea) was voted Taiwan’s “National Bird”

    http://birds.wikia.com/wiki/Formosan_Blue_Magpie

  17. Nimrod Says:

    Ahem. I think you mean Taiwan’s “provincial bird” 😉 Cool bird.

  18. BMY Says:

    @Nimrod #17

    I would say “ROC’s national Bird” not to offend people on board like Allen, Charlies, A-Gu 😉

  19. Hongkonger Says:

    Anyone can tell the name of the talking bird with black feather and orange cheeks?
    Man, these talking-birds are smart, perhaps even smarter than parrots (???)

  20. Allen Says:

    @BMY #18 – thanks for the sensitivity. I propose China adapt the Formosan Blue Magpie (Urocissa caerulea) as PRC’s national bird! It is a more beautiful bird than the sparrow. It would make it that much more difficult for Taiwan to secede from China proper.

  21. Allen Says:

    @Hongkonger – check http://bird.intopet.com/15344.shtml. Is that it?

    I used to have one when I was in Taiwan. You are right about it being smart. Mine spoke both Mandarin and Taiwanese.

  22. Hongkonger Says:

    Thanks, Allen., for helping me find it! [ Not the same bird but I guess same family as your 八哥 🙂 ]

    中 文 名: 鹩哥
    俗名别名: 了王
    英 文 名: Hill Myna
    拉丁学名: Gracula religiosa

    Oh, that brings back fond memories of childhood.

  23. BMY Says:

    @Allen #20

    hehe, that’s a good one.

  24. A-gu Says:

    @BMY Hey, I especially won’t be offended by calling the Formosan Magpie Taiwan’s national bird — that’s what the competition was calling it when the voting was on.

  25. FOARP Says:

    @TommyBahamas – To be precise, the national crest features both the Lion (representing the crown of England) and the Unicorn (representing the Scottish crown), anyway, far too many countries claim either the Lion (or the Eagle) as one of their national symbols for it to be truly distinctive. The Bulldog is far better as a symbol of Britain, and the association with Churchill has fixed it in the public mind (although Churchill actually owned a toy Poodle).

  26. TommyBahamas Says:

    FOARP,

    Thanks for your reply. I am really disappointed to learn that Churchill actually owned a toy Poodle (I hate poodles) and not a bulldog, or a stout Old English Mastiff , perhaps a Labrador Retriever, even an Alsatian, yunno, a real dog, a man’s dog, for Pete’s sake. While we’re on the subject, the Chow chow has got to be the choice as China’s National Dog. The “puffy-Lion” dog, sōngshī quǎn 鬆獅犬is one of the most unusual dog breeds, having the mane of a lion, the (unusual black) tongue of a bear and the fur coat of a dowager. The Chow is thought to be one of the oldest recognizable dog breeds. Research indicates it is one of the first primitive breeds to evolve from the wolf. A Chinese bas-relief from 150 BC shows a hunting dog similar in appearance to the Chow. It is one of the most serious-minded of all dog breeds, with an independent, aloof and strong-willed personality.
    Ok, back to birds, I am curious, is any of the owl species anybody’s national birds, aren’t they beautiful creatures?

  27. General Tso\'s Chicken Says:

    I vote for me!

  28. Hongkonger Says:

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night
    Take these broken wings and learn to fly
    All your life
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise

    Black bird singing in the dead of night
    Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
    all your life
    you were only waiting for this moment to be free

    Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
    Into the light of the dark black night.

    Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
    Into the light of the dark black night.

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night
    Take these broken wings and learn to fly
    All your life
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise,oh
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise, oh
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise

    中 文 名: 鹩哥
    俗名别名: 了王
    英 文 名: Hill Myna
    拉丁学名: Gracula religiosa

  29. Green Says:

    “If I had to choose, I would rather choose the sparrow. 1. Sparrows cannot be kept. Those caught in cages or leashed by a leg all end up refusing to eat or drink and die that way. I think that is a kind of strength of character. 2. Sparrows don’t have pretty feathers or sweet cries, but they quietly fight for daily livelihood. I think this is very much like the behavior of Chinese people. 3. Sparrows are the birds most intertwined with common Chinese folks. Who hasn’t come in contact with sparrows, from childhood to adulthood?”

    The guy obviously don’t know much about sparrows. :o) I have kept sparrows as pets before and they were more afraid of the wild than the indoors and their coat is quite beautiful up close. The males ones have all the colors of autumn on their back. But I have no problems with sparrows becoming the national bird as I do think the Chinese do share many characteristics with sparrows as we are quite numerous, garrulous and tough.

  30. Dalo Collis Says:

    Great post/article… I really enjoyed the insight and comparisons between these two birds, both majestic in their own and very different ways. Beautiful. Also, the debate that you captured with the discussion of the netizens gives insight into not just the feeling towards China as a country, but also individuals. Cheers!

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Trackbacks

  1. Global Voices Online » China: Sparrow as National Bird
  2. China Debates the National Bird - the Sparrow « ajfortin.com

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