Deadliest Earthquake In History: China's 1556 Quake And Its Path Of Destruction

China, Shaanxi Province, Wei River Valley, Wheat Fields, Loess Plateau. (Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On January 23, 1556, China's Ming Dynasty was rocked by a huge earthquake that became the deadliest quake in recorded history. Although it lasted only a few seconds, its toll was staggering and its effects were felt for generations.

The Shaanxi Earthquake

In the early hours of January 23, 1556, the Wei River Valley, located in the Huazhou District of the Shaanxi Province in northern China, was rocked by an earthquake that modern scientists have estimated at around an 8 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake—which has been known variously as the Jiajing Earthquake because it happened during Emperor Jiajing’s reign, the Chinese Earthquake, and most commonly the Shaanxi Earthquake—only lasted a few seconds, but aftershocks continued for about six months after the initial quake.

The Wei River Valley was certainly no stranger to earthquakes. Falling neatly within three major fault lines, it's experienced at least 26 earthquakes in its time, but this one was different.