Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-2024-11
https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-2024-11
27 Feb 2024
 | 27 Feb 2024
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

The Spatial-Temporal Evolution of the Chongzhen Drought (1627–1644) in China and its Impact on Famine

Siying Chen, Yun Su, Xudong Chen, and Liang Emlyn Yang

Abstract. Investigations of past extreme climate events offer insights into the interactions between natural forces, ecosystems, and human societies. The Chongzhen Drought, which occurred from 1627 to 1644 CE, stands as possibly the most severe drought in central and eastern China over the last 1500 years, remarkable for its duration, extent, and the vast number of people affected. Concurrently, a widespread famine emerged, triggering peasant uprisings that were argued as having contributed to the Ming Dynasty's downfall. This study extracted 1,802 drought records and 1,977 famine records from Chinese historical documents to reconstruct the spatial-temporal progression of the drought and its impact on famine. The records provided drought information of season, duration, and intensity, which enabled a classification of four drought severity levels. Then kernel density estimation reconstructed the spatial pattern of drought and the Drought Kernel Density Index (DKDI) series in sub-regions. Between 1627 and 1644, the drought affected most of central and eastern China. The severe drought zone was mainly located north of 29° N, shifting from Northwest China to North China and then expanding to the south. The development of drought in different regions was not synchronized. Northwest China faced the earliest drought outbreak, which eased in the middle period and peaked in 1640. North China's DKDI series forms a single-peaked curve, indicating a gradual aggravation of the drought from 1633 to 1640. The Yangtze-Huai Region's DKDI series shows a multi-peaked curve, with repeated cycles of worsening and easing drought, peaking in 1641. Furthermore, the reconstruction of the spatio-temporal progression of famine revealed overlapped ranges and similar development trends to that of the drought. The years marking the peak of the Famine Kernel Density Index (FKDI) in Northwest China, North China, and the Yangtze-Huai Region coincided with those of the DKDI. Regression analysis identified drought as the primary factor triggering famine, accounting for approximately 67.3 % of its occurrence. In North China, the contribution of drought was higher, at 73.4 %. Series and correlation analyses indicate a continuity of 2–3 years in drought's impacts on famine. The paper further clarified the dominant pathway of climate impact transmission in this case: extreme drought → declining agricultural harvest → food shortage → famine. Other natural and socio-economic factors, such as locust infestations, nomadic invasions, and economic decline, also played a role in the occurrence of famine. Human response measures were instrumental in regulating the transmission of climate change impacts.

Siying Chen, Yun Su, Xudong Chen, and Liang Emlyn Yang

Status: open (until 22 May 2024)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on cp-2024-11', Mei Ai, 06 Mar 2024 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Siying Chen, 15 Mar 2024 reply
  • RC1: 'Comment on cp-2024-11', Anonymous Referee #1, 21 Mar 2024 reply
Siying Chen, Yun Su, Xudong Chen, and Liang Emlyn Yang
Siying Chen, Yun Su, Xudong Chen, and Liang Emlyn Yang

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Short summary
This study used 1,802 drought and 1,977 famine records from historical documents to reconstruct the spatial-temporal progression of the Chongzhen Drought (1627–1644) in China and its impact on famine. The advances: reconstructing the annual spatial patterns and regional series of drought; demonstrating drought as the primary factor triggering famine, contributing 2/3; finding a continuity of 2–3 years in drought’s impacts on famine; identifying the transmission pathway of the drought's impacts.