Catastrophic Flood That Killed 300,000 People Entombed Many in the Walls of Ancient Chinese City

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Researchers have investigated a catastrophic Yellow River flood that decimated the Chinese metropolis of Kaifeng—a former imperial capital—in A.D. 1642, offering new insights right into a catastrophe thought to have killed an estimated 300,000 folks.

In a examine printed within the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists examined geological and archaeological proof, which revealed the flood “destroyed Kaifeng’s inner city, entombing the city and its inhabitants within meters of silt and clay”—backing up proof present in historic paperwork.

According to the crew—led by Michael Storozum from Fudan University, China—the flood was so catastrophic as a result of the partitions of town had partially collapsed throughout a siege, which means that many of the floodwaters turned trapped inside.

The Yellow River—the second-longest within the nation—is typically known as “China’s sorrow” resulting from its tendency over the centuries to supply devastating floods. In truth, historic paperwork counsel that the Yellow River has flooded greater than a thousand occasions prior to now 2,000 years, ensuing within the deaths of thousands and thousands of individuals. Some of those occasions are among the many deadliest flood disasters in historical past.

Kaifeng is positioned on the river’s southern financial institution in what’s now central Henan province. It was beforehand one of many largest cities on the earth, and functioned because the imperial capital of a number of Chinese dynasties. It can also be identified for being the sufferer of a number of Yellow River floods. In the previous 3,000 years, the river has flooded town round 40 occasions. However, the occasion of 1642 was maybe essentially the most devastating of all of them.

Unlike the opposite floods, this occasion was not attributable to nature however slightly by people. For six months, town had been withstanding a insurgent siege. But when it turned clear that town couldn’t maintain out any longer, the governor of Kaifeng determined to take drastic motion, which unintentionally ended up costing the lives of 1000’s of his personal folks.

“The governor of Kaifeng ordered the waters of the Yellow River unleashed in hopes of destroying the rebel army,” Xin Xu and Rivka Gonen—authors of the e book The Jews of Kaifeng, China: History, Culture, and Religion—wrote. “The dikes were broken, but instead of hurting the rebels, the raging waters swept over the low-lying city, drowning a citizenry that was totally unprepared. From a population of 378,000, only a few score thousand survived.”

Catastrophic Flood That Killed 300,000 People Entombed Many in the Walls of Ancient Chinese City
This image taken on July 6, 2012 exhibits guests gathering to see big gushes of water launched from the Xiaolangdi dam to clear up the sediment-laden Yellow River and to forestall localized flooding, in Jiyuan, central China’s Henan province. STR/AFP/GettyImages

According to the examine, latest archaeological work carried out at Kaifeng by Storozum and colleagues has demonstrated that Kaifeng’s metropolis partitions collapsed in the course of the siege, leaving town unprotected in opposition to floodwaters.

“As a result, the constant influx of floodwater into the city created a deadly mix of mud and urban debris that significantly amplified the destructive power of the Yellow River,” Storozum and colleagues wrote.

According to the researchers, investigations into previous disasters akin to these may also help make clear related occasions as we speak, particularly in a world the place local weather change is anticipated to trigger a rise in excessive climate across the globe.

“Our investigations at Kaifeng suggest that urban resilience is not static but instead varies depending on the magnitude and type of natural hazard, the built landscape, as well as the city’s social institutions,” the authors wrote.

“As global temperatures continue to rise and increase the frequency of extreme events, the combined archaeological and paleoenvironmental record of exceptional floods, like the A.D. 1642 Yellow River flood, can provide an important reminder that unexpected events have happened in the past and will likely happen again. In extreme cases, these events can cause infrastructure built to prevent disasters to catastrophically fail, causing significantly more devastation than under normal circumstances,” they stated.