Coupled Pacific Rim megadroughts contributed to the fall of Ming Dynasty’s capital in 1644 CE

Published: 25 March 2024| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/c95f8nn9c3.2
Feng Chen


Historical documents provide evidence for regional droughts preceding the political turmoil and fall of Beijing in 1644 CE, and more than 20 million people died in northern China over the late Ming famine period. However, the significance of environmental drivers and large-scale spatiotemporal climatic patterns that could perhaps be linked with this major unrest remain unknown. Here, we provide evidence for persistent megadroughts from 1576-1593 and 1624-1643 derived from a tree-ring network across northern China and coinciding with exceptionally cold conditions just before the fall of Beijing. We show that these regional deviations are part of a series of megadroughts along the Pacific Rim, which not only impacted the ecology and society in monsoonal northern China, but also exacerbated external geopolitical and economic pressures. This conclusion is supported by last millennium reanalysis and numerical model simulations revealing internally driven Pacific sea surface temperature variations and the predominance of decadal scale La Niña-like conditions to be the drivers of decreased rainfall in northern China and the North and South American monsoon regions. These teleconnective patterns provide a mechanistic explanation for reoccurring drought during the late Ming Dynasty and the environmental framework fostering the fall of Ming Dynasty’s capital in 1644 CE.



Yunnan University


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