Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 78 ›› Issue (5): 1074-1087.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202305002

• Research on Natural Disasters • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Identification and characteristics of extreme events with mass deaths caused by natural disasters in the Qing Dynasty

CHEN Siyu(), FANG Xiuqi(), YE Yu, ZHAO Wanyi   

  1. Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2022-02-16 Revised:2023-02-22 Online:2023-05-25 Published:2023-05-27
  • Contact: FANG Xiuqi;
  • Supported by:
    Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities(20XNL011);Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA19040101)


Mass mortality is one of the major threats posed by natural disasters to the population system, which consists of interactions between natural and socio-economic systems. Based on records of deaths extracted from the Integrated Natural Disaster Information System of the Qing Dynasty, events with mass deaths caused by natural disasters are identified, and the decadal deaths index series from 1644 to 1911 is reconstructed. The spatio-temporal characteristics and causes of these extreme events with mass deaths are also analyzed. The main results show the following. First, from 1644 to 1911, historical China suffered a high frequency of extreme events with mass deaths that occurred in 91 years, with events occurring once every three years on average. Second, the deaths index series varies significantly in three phases: Phase Ⅰ is from 1644 to the 1720s with a frequency and intensity close to the average over the entire Qing Dynasty; Phase Ⅱ is from the 1730s to the 1800s with a low frequency of events occurring in two years and in two provinces per decade; and Phase Ⅲ is from the 1810s to 1911 with a high frequency of events occurring in five years and in five provinces per decade. The maximum frequency and intensity appeared in the 1870s, whereas no extreme events with mass deaths occurred in the 1750s. Third, a total of 18 provinces experienced extreme events, and the spatial distribution of extreme events during the three phases differs. During Phase Ⅰ, extreme events were widely distributed but of relatively low intensity; such events occurred in fewer provinces during Phase Ⅱ. During Phase Ⅲ, extreme events occurred in 18 provinces with high intensity and their spatial distribution showed a significant pattern of floods in southern China and droughts in northern China. Finally, epidemics, famine, and flood were the main contributors to extreme events with mass deaths throughout the entire Qing Dynasty, with drought, heavy rain, and storm surges being the main indirect factors.

Key words: Qing Dynasty, historical disasters, population deaths, spatial and temporal characteristics