On January 23, 1556, during the reign of Emperor Jianjing of the Ming Dynasty, a tremendous earthquake shook Shaanxi Province. Scientists have assigned a reading of 8-8.3 on the Richter scale to this quake. Although there have been quakes that have registered higher, no quake has resulted in more deaths. Based on historical records, an estimated 830,000 people are thought to have died. The destruction stretched over an area of 500 square miles; in some counties, over half the inhabitants perished. Many peasants of the time lived in cave dwellings carved into the soft silt cliffs; entire mountainsides collapsed, killing all inside the caves. Aftershocks continued for six months and fires raged for days. I doubt too many Europeans of the time learned of the disaster, but those involved in the spice and silk trade must surely have heard something. The Science Museums of China has information about the Shaanxi earthquake here.
As we pray for and send aid to the victims of the current catastrophe, let us remember the hundreds of thousands of people who died five centuries ago in eerily similar circumstances.