1556 Shaanxi Earthquake: Deadliest Earthquake in History

Prior to 20th century counting casualties is often vague after large-scale disasters. But Shaanxi Earthquake is still considered as the deadliest disaster of all time. Shaanxi Earthquake is the most catastrophic earthquake. It was occurred before 460 years ago. On 23rd January of 1556 the deadliest earthquake happened in the China.

The quake struck in the evening of 23rd January and the aftershocks continue till following morning. A scientific investigation revealed that the magnitude of the quake is 8.0-8.3. The quake struck in the middle of a densely populated area with poorly constructed buildings and homes, resulting in a horrific death toll.

The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Wei River Valley in the Shaanxi Province, which is near the cities of Huaxian, Weinan and Huayin. In Huxian every single building collapsed. And more than half residents of the city killed. It was similar in more 2 cities (Weinan and Huayin).

The earthquake 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.

1556 Shaanxi earthquake

Due to this disaster approximately 830,000 people killed. In this quake entire region of inner China had been destroyed. And it is said that estimated 60% of the region’s population died. This earthquake is the deadliest earthquake and the third deadliest natural disaster in the recorded history.

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.

–  Translation of a Chinese study of historical earthquake


The earthquake also triggered landslides which is contributed to massive death toll. In some place the ground suddenly rose up and formed new hills. In other areas stream burst out in an instant, or the ground broke and new gullies appeared. The directions of the roads were even changed. Trees fell upside down and the mountains were rocked in the bottom part. In some places, 60-foot-deep crevices opened in the earth. The cost of the earthquake is almost impossible to calculate.

A Portuguese ascetic 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 described the earthquake as a possible punishment for people’s sins.

Ivory Soda

'Ello there!, I do WordPress stuff, in love with Windows 10 & Lumia (Yes! Still Lumia). I also write about Microsoft & Technology for various publications.

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