1556 Shaanxi earthquake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shaanxi earthquake in 1556
Shaangxi 1556 earthquake map of provinces.PNG
Map of China showing modern-day Shaanxi province (red) and the other provinces affected by the earthquake (orange)
1556 Shaanxi earthquake is located in China
1556 Shaanxi earthquake
Local date23 January 1556 (1556-01-23) in Julian calendar[1]
2 February 1556 (1556-02-02) in Gregorian calendar
the 12th day of the 12th month of the 34th year of the Jiajing era in Chinese calendar
Local timeEarly morning
Magnitude8.0 Mw[2]
Epicenter34°30′01″N 109°18′00″E / 34.50028°N 109.30000°E / 34.50028; 109.30000Coordinates: 34°30′01″N 109°18′00″E / 34.50028°N 109.30000°E / 34.50028; 109.30000
Areas affectedMing dynasty
Max. intensityXI (Extreme)
Map of the Weihe–Shanxi Rift System along the southern and eastern margin of the Ordos Block

The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake (Postal romanization: Shensi), known in Chinese colloquially by its regnal year as the Jiajing Great Earthquake "嘉靖大地震" (Jiājìng Dàdìzhèn) or officially by its epicenter as the Hua County Earthquake "华县地震" (Huàxiàn Dìzhèn), occurred in the early morning of 23 January 1556 in Huaxian, Shaanxi during the Ming dynasty.

Most of the residents there lived in yaodongs—artificial caves in loess cliffs—which collapsed and buried alive those sleeping inside. Modern estimates put the direct deaths from the earthquake at over 100,000, while over 700,000 migrated away or died from famine and plagues, which summed up to a total loss of 830,000 people in Imperial records.[3][4][5] It is one of the deadliest earthquakes, and in turn one of the deadliest natural disasters in Chinese history.

Tectonic setting[edit]

Huaxian lies within the Weihe Basin, one of the rift basins that form the southern and eastern boundaries of the Ordos Block. To the east the basin is continuous with the Shanxi Rift System. The Weihe basin formed during the Paleogene in response to northwest–southeast directed extension. Following a tectonically quiet period during the late Paleogene the rift basins became active again in the Neogene in response to NNW–SSE directed extension, activity that continues to the present. The basins in the Weihe-Shanxi Rift System are bounded by large normal faults, which have been responsible for large historical earthquakes.[6][7] The Weihe Basin has an overall half-graben geometry, with the main controlling faults, such as the Huashan Fault and North Qinling Fault, forming the southern boundary.[8][9]


The epicenter was in the Wei River Valley in Shaanxi Province, near Huaxian (now Huazhou District of Weinan), Weinan and Huayin. Huaxian was completely destroyed, killing more than half the residents of the city, with an estimated death toll in the hundreds of thousands. The situation in Weinan and Huayin was similar. In certain areas, 20-metre-deep (66 ft) crevices opened in the earth. Destruction and death were widespread, affecting places as far as 500 kilometres (310 mi) from the epicenter. The earthquake also triggered landslides, which contributed to the massive death toll.[10] The rupture occurred during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor of the Ming dynasty. Therefore, in the Chinese historical record, this earthquake is often referred to as the Jiajing Great Earthquake.[11]

Modern estimates, based on geological data, give the earthquake a magnitude of approximately 8 Mw on the moment magnitude scale and XI (catastrophic damage) on the Mercalli scale, though more recent discoveries have shown that it was more likely 7.9 Mw.[1] While it was the deadliest earthquake and the third-deadliest natural disaster in history, there have been earthquakes with considerably higher magnitudes. Following the earthquake, aftershocks continued several times a month for half a year.[12]

In the annals of China it was described in this manner:

In the winter of 1556, an earthquake catastrophe occurred in the Shaanxi and Shanxi Provinces. In our Hua County, various misfortunes took place. Mountains and rivers changed places and roads were destroyed. In some places, the ground suddenly rose up and formed new hills, or it sank abruptly and became new valleys. In other areas, a stream burst out in an instant, or the ground broke and new gullies appeared. Huts, official houses, temples and city walls collapsed all of a sudden.[13]

The earthquake damaged many of the Forest of Stone steles badly. Of the 114 Kaicheng Stone Classics, 40 were broken in the earthquake.[14]

The scholar Qin Keda lived through the earthquake and recorded details. One conclusion he drew was that "at the very beginning of an earthquake, people indoors should not go out immediately. Just crouch down and wait. Even if the nest has collapsed, some eggs may remain intact."[15] The shaking reduced the height of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an by three levels.[16]

Loess caves[edit]

Millions of people at the time lived in yaodong—artificial loess caves—on high cliffs in the Loess Plateau. Loess is the silty soil, deposited on the plateau by windstorms over ages. The soft loess clay is a result of thousands of years of winds carrying silt from the Gobi Desert into the area. Loess is a highly erosion-prone soil. It is susceptible to the forces of wind and water.[17][better source needed]

The Loess Plateau and its dusty soil cover almost all of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces and parts of others. Much of the population lived in yaodongs in these cliffs. This was the major contributing factor to the very high death toll. The earthquake collapsed many caves and caused landslides which destroyed many more.[17][better source needed]

Affected area[edit]

More than 97 counties in the provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Gansu, Hebei, Shandong, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu and Anhui were affected. Buildings were damaged slightly in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.[18] An 840-kilometre-wide (520 mi) area was destroyed,[19] and in some counties as much as 60% of the population was killed.[20] The cost of damage done by the earthquake is almost impossible to measure in modern terms.

Death toll[edit]

Modern estimates put the direct deaths from the earthquake to be probably a little over 100,000, while probably a little over 700,000 migrated away or died from famine and plagues, which summed up to a total loss of 830,000 people in Imperial records.[3][4][5] It is one of the deadliest earthquakes in China, in turn making it one of the top disasters in China by death toll.

Foreign reaction[edit]

The Portuguese Dominican friar Gaspar da Cruz, who visited Guangzhou later in 1556, heard about the earthquake, and later reported about it in the last chapter of his book A Treatise of China (1569). He viewed the earthquake as a possible punishment for people's sins, and the Great Comet of 1556 as, possibly, the sign of this calamity (as well as perhaps the sign of the birth of the Antichrist).[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b International Association of Engineering Geology International Congress. Proceedings. [1990] (1990). ISBN 90-6191-664-X.[author missing][title missing][page needed][verification needed]
  2. ^ Du et al. 2017, p. 84.
  3. ^ a b c 高东旗; 王常有; 杜玉萍; 王晓燕 (2008). "大地震后传染病的防疫要点 [Key points of infectious diseases prevention after earthquakes]". 华北国防医药 (3). 1556年陕西发生大地震,当时死亡10万人,而第2年发生大瘟疫,却死亡70多万人 [100,000 died in 1556, while a plague struck the subsequent year and led to a further death of 700,000-odd.]
  4. ^ a b c China Earthquake Administration, ed. (2008). 地震知识百问百答 [100 Q&As on Earthquakes]. 地震出版社. Archived from the original on 9 May 2009. 实则直接死于地震的只有十数万人,其余70余万人均死于瘟疫和饥荒 [Actually, direct deaths from earthquake amount to 100,000-odd, the remaining 700,000-odd died from plagues and famine]
  5. ^ a b c 颤抖的地球—地震科学 [Trembling Earth: On Seismology] (2005). Researched by China Earthquake Administration seismologists 冯万鹏,薑文亮,龚丽霞,公茂盛,胡进军; Revised by CEA seismologists 王文清,续春荣,张宝红; Edited by CEA chiefs 谢礼立,张景发. Tsinghua University Press. Pages XIII, 162. "1556年陕西华县8级大地震,死亡的83万人中, 据估计死于瘟疫者不下七八成" [Among the 830,000 died, it is estimated that no less than 70% or 80% died from plagues]
  6. ^ Li, B.; Sørensen, B.; Atakan, K. (2015). "Coulomb stress evolution in the Shanxi rift system, North China, since 1303 associated with coseismic, post-seismic and interseismic deformation". Geophysical Journal International. 203 (3): 1642–1664. doi:10.1093/gji/ggv384.
  7. ^ Du, Jianjun; Li, Dunpeng; Wang, Yufang; Ma, Yinsheng (February 2017), "Late Quaternary Activity of the Huashan Piedmont Fault and Associated Hazards in the Southeastern Weihe Graben, Central China", Acta Geologica Sinica, 91 (1): 76–92, doi:10.1111/1755-6724.13064, S2CID 131962123
  8. ^ Shi, W.; Dong, S.; Hu, J. (2019). "Neotectonics around the Ordos Block, North China: A review and new insights". Earth-Science Reviews. 200: 102969. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2019.102969. S2CID 210616833.
  9. ^ Feng, X.; Ma, J.; Zhou, Y.; England, P.; Parsons, B.; Rizza, M.A.; Walker, R.T. (2020). "Geomorphology and Paleoseismology of the Weinan Fault, Shaanxi, Central China, and the Source of the 1556 Huaxian Earthquake" (PDF). Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. 125 (12). Bibcode:2020JGRB..12517848F. doi:10.1029/2019JB017848. S2CID 228829854.
  10. ^ History.com Archived 13 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, History Channel's Record of the earthquake.
  11. ^ Zhiyue Bo (2010). China's Elite Politics: Governance and Democratization. World Scientific. p. 272. ISBN 978-981-283-673-1.
  12. ^ Kepu.ac.cn, China virtual museums quake
  13. ^ This quotation is from a translation of a Chinese study of historical earthquake. 賀明靜編著,(1990年),《(1556年)華縣地震災害研究》,西安:陜西人民出版社,頁92。
  14. ^ "MUSEUM OF FOREST OF STONE TABLETS IN XI' AN". Archived from the original on 16 August 2004.
  15. ^ Kisti.re.kr, China virtual museums quake
  16. ^ Christopher E.M. Pearson (5 September 2017). 1000 Monuments of Genius. ЛитРес. p. 73. ISBN 978-5-457-76702-7.
  17. ^ a b Gale Eaton (23 October 2015). A History of Civilization in 50 Disasters (History in 50). Tilbury House Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-88448-407-3.
  18. ^ Science Museums of China Museum of Earthquakes, Ruins of Hua County Earthquake (1556)
  19. ^ "China's History of Massive Earthquakes". 12 May 2008. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  20. ^ George Pararas-Carayannis (23 March 2013). "Historical Earthquakes in China". DISASTER PAGES. Archived from the original on 7 May 2018.
  21. ^ Cruz, Gaspar da (1953), "Treatise in which the things of China are related at great length, with their particularities, ... Composed by the Rev. Father Fr. Gaspar da Cruz of the Order of Sain Dominic", in Boxer, Charles Ralph (ed.), South China in the sixteenth century: being the narratives of Galeote Pereira, Fr. Gaspar da Cruz, O.P. [and] Fr. Martín de Rada, O.E.S.A. (1550–1575), Issue 106 of Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, Printed for the Hakluyt Society, retrieved 5 June 2011 (Translation of da Cruz's 1569 book, with C.R. Boxer's comments)

Further reading[edit]

  • Houa, Jian-Jun; Hanb, Mu-Kang; Chaib, Bao-Long; Hanc, Heng-Yue (1998), "Geomorphological observations of active faults in the epicentral region of the Huaxian large earthquake in 1556 in Shaanxi Province, China", Journal of Structural Geology, 20 (5): 549–557, Bibcode:1998JSG....20..549H, doi:10.1016/S0191-8141(97)00112-0.

External links[edit]