The Wikipedia page Extreme weather events of 535–536 lists under "Documentary evidence" that:

  • Low temperatures, even snow during the summer (snow reportedly fell in August in China during the Northern and Southern dynasties, which caused the harvest there to be delayed
  • "A dense, dry fog" in the Middle East, China and Europe

The page does provide a reference (Ochoa, George; Jennifer Hoffman; Tina Tin (2005). Climate: The Force That Shapes Our World and the Future of Life on Earth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale. p. 71.), but upon reading the referenced book, I noticed that the original quote was itself unsubstantiated, as shown in the picture I took below (at the end of the book there was only a Further Reading list):

enter image description here

I then proceeded to find other academic sources online. One article titled Spatial Response to Major Volcanic Events in or about AD 536, 934 and 1258 includes a passage quite similar to that found on the Wikipedia page, except slight variation in time:

The above results for Mongolia are consistent with the observations of summer frosts and snow, crop failure, decreased star visibility and famine documented for northern China in July and August of AD 536–7.

it listed the following citation for that passage:

Pang, K. and Chou, H.-H.: 1985, Unpublished research, in S. Weisbard, ‘Excavating Words: A Geological Tool’, Science News 127, 91–94.

So I went to this cited article, which contains the following:

The effect of this volcano was also felt in China. Pang reports that, during the spring and fall equinoxes each year, the ancient Chinese looked for Canopus -the brightest star in the constellation of Alpha Carina-to assure themselves of good times ahead and to demark the seasons. In A.D. 536, however, Canopus was not seen. Pang found records from the state of Ching in southern China reporting frost and snow in July and August that killed the seedling crop, causing a major famine the following autumn. The accounts also show that the effects of the eruption were noted until 538. Other kingdoms reported similar disasters; one record indicated that the weather was so severe that 70 to 80 percent of the people starved to death, says Pang.

Unfortuantely, the article does not provide any specific references to this quote, and it seems that Pang's research was indeed unpublished.

I have just begun to look into the massive amount of Chinese chronicles from this period with the hope of finding the exact entries quoted by Pang, in particular the highlighted quote concerning the severity of the disaster, which seems like to be highly exaggerated. In the meantime, I would really appreciate if someone could point me to a specific passage from an ancient Chinese source that confirms aforementioned descriptions.

Thank you.

  • 2
    Please be reminded that the name of the province "Quingzhou" in my answer is same with that of Lars's Qingzhou ( It's up to how to pronounce ). Good question.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 13:42
  • Unfortunately for Alpha D, ( this is not an attack to his answer ) his answer contradicts with that of Lars. Aplha D says, "As for the highlighted quote I've managed to track it down to a passage in the 资治通鉴第一百五十七卷 Zizhi Tongjian 157th Juan (13th chapter in the Liang Dynasty sections). The original texts has the following:" So, the death ratio of 70-80% is described in Nanshi. However, according to the answer by Lars, it was the description of Beishi. I can not confirm, only Aplha D can confirm since he can read Chinese, but it seems to me Lars is correct,
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 18:46
  • since most of the answer by him describes the same phenomenons I quoted. And my source is from a blogger, who apparently can read Chinese Nanshi and Beishi in original, so that final vote would be very likely to be thrown in to Dars'.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 18:50
  • Actually, I was too able to track down that around 80% of northern China died in 6th century. However, it is from Japanese source, and can not confirm if it is described either by Nanshi Or Beishi ( my assumption would go to Beishi ).
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 19:07
  • My assumption hugely went to that of Dars'. Because my next statement ( though I have not described in my answer yet ) is describing the same thing, ( almost ) literally word by word, from Beishi.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 19:27

4 Answers 4


The chronicles Beishi 北史 "History of the North" and Nanshi 南史 "History of the South" have at least some of what you are looking for.

The Nanshi chronicle mentions frost and snow. This is cited in Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World by David Keys:

In July 537 China was hit by frost, while in August it snowed. The History of the Southern Dynasties recorded that “in July in Qingzhou and [another province] there was a fall of frost” and that “in August in Qingzhou there was snow,” which “ruined the crops.”

The Nanshi chronicle is also cited in the The Palgrave Handbook of Climate History:

the early seventh-century Nanshi chronicle refers to “yellow dust” that “fell like snow” in 536 and 537. In the latter year, it “filled scoops when picked up.” The dust was almost certainly Gobi sand (not volcanic ash), but this signals that 536 and 537 were unusually dry.

Keys also has the following paragraph which cites the Beishi:

“Because of drought, there was an imperial edict which ordered that in the capital [Ch’ang-an], in all provinces, commanderies and districts, one should bury the corpses,” says the Bei shi for late April to early May 535.1 “[There was] great drought. [The government] had to provide water at the city gates [of Ch’ang-an] and the hall gates [of the palace] as well as the gates of the government offices,” says the entry for late June and early July of the same year. Then in September 536, in the north Chinese “provinces of Bian, Si, Zhuo and Jian, hail fell” and there was “a great famine.” By December the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the government had to send special inspectors “to investigate [the conditions of] the famished refugees who were roaming around north of the Yellow River.”

The next paragraph then adds:

And in Shaanxi province, “the land within the Passes,” The Annals of the Western Wei in the Bei shi state that there was “a great famine,” and that “the people practiced cannibalism and 70 to 80 percent of the population died.”

Notes on the original sources:

Beishi 北史 "History of the North" is a one-book parallel to the the official dynastic histories ( 正史) of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534; Weishu 魏書), its two short-lived successor dynasties of the Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577; Beiqishu 北齊書) and (Northern) Zhou 北周 (557-581; Zhoushu 周書), and the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618; Suishu 隋書).

Nanshi 南史 "History of the South" is a one-book parallel to the the official dynastic histories (zhengshi 正史) of the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420-589): the Liu-Song 劉宋 (420-479; Songshu 宋書), Southern Qi 南齊 (479-502; Nanqishu 南齊書), Liang 梁 (502-557; Liangshu 梁書), and Chen 陳 (557-589; Chenshu 陳書).

Note on the secondary source (David Keys)

David Keys' book is somewhat controversial and received mixed reviews. However, he does at least cite sources, but this does not mean his overall thesis (and the way he used those sources) is validated.

  • As far as I investigated too, Nanshi records the quote Lars is citing.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 3:37
  • Beishi, would have been "Wei Shi". ( I don't know which is correct, but it would be according to how to pronounce Chinese 魏 "Wei" ( like Bei? ) dynasty. )
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 4:54
  • @KentaroTomono The site I cited uses Beishi 北史. Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:30
  • Are you understanding that the Beishi aka 北史 means the chronicle of the Wei dynasty. It would be only understandable to Chinese or Japanese or Asians. I am afraid to ask you then, why in 6th century, 魏, Wei, was situated at "North" ( 北 ) of China and Lyan, 梁 ( 南 ), was situated at the south of China?
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:41
  • @KentaroTomono I'm also not sure which is correct as I'm no expert in the Chinese language. I'm just saying the site uses this (see my edit 'original sources'). The site is run by Dr. Ulrich Theobald, Senior Lecturer, Department of Chinese Studies, University of Tübingen, Germany. Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:49

The main descriptions of the abnormal weather is found as mentioned in the other answers from the 北史/南史 beishi/nanshi which mentions snow in September and August respectively.

As for the highlighted quote I've managed to track it down to a passage in the 资治通鉴第一百五十七卷 Zizhi Tongjian 157th Juan (13th chapter in the Liang Dynasty sections). The original texts has the following:


which translates roughly to:

AD536, Large famine in Wei, Cannibalism reported, death seven to eight in ten.

  • 1
    I would like to upvote your answer, but you said, 13th chapter in the Liang Dynasty sections, but you are referring to AD536, Large famine in Wei, Cannibalism reported, death seven to eight in ten. Wei is the northern dynasty back then, Lyan is the southern dynasty back then. If you can read Chinese, tighten your belt.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 5:50
  • I'm glad you can update your answer then. Btw, around 4-6 centuries, we were kind of "pals" then? haha.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:34
  • @KentaroTomono - I'm trying to understand your comment. I'm not sure what your objection is, that he misread the original texts or that the Liang juan (卷) should not have information relating to the state of Wei 魏?
    – J Asia
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:40
  • @JAsia ......I am talking about Lyan dynasty link[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liang_dynasty] not Lian, 巻......
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 6:47
  • @KentaroTomoro - Sorry but I don't really understand your objection. Are you saying that I should spell 梁纪 as Lyan instead of Liang? I'm only following the wikipedia translations there. I am by no means a historian and my Chinese is second-rate, so if you have more accurate information I will be happy to approve edits to the answer.
    – AlphaD
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 7:30

This is the supplementary answer to that of drooze ( I think he finally hit the direct answer. )

As he said, according to this site( Japanese ), Nanshi records multiple quite unusual events occurred in Liang Dynasty ( English ).

Quote ( from the above Japanese source )


In the intercalary December, 534AD, we heard the lightening sound twice at South West. ( Nanshi )


This would be the reference to the volcano explosion of the Krakatoa, in Indonesia, that occurred in 535 AD, though I assume people in Liang Dynasty would've forgotten such lightenings soon from their memories. So those, the unusual lightening sounds, seemed.., should have been nothing to do with the living of people. But parallels of extraordinary climate events occurred multiple time since the sound. In the next year, in October, yellow dusts amounted like snow ( Nanshi ). We have no clue now to confirm that this was the dust of the result of the volcano explosion that happened in the previous year. But these dusts are recorded in Nanshi, observed in the next year, in November 536 ( Nanshi ), on the first of February 537, ( Nanshi ), on 4th of January in 550 ( Nanshi, ).


「There seems to be something wrong」, I assume Chinese people of Liang Dynasty must had begun to think. But the time was too late, the chains of the extravagant disasters already started. In the summer of the 537, Liang people suffered from the extraordinary cold summer, and in the same year, in June in Quingzhou, people suffered from the severe frost damage, ( Nanshi ) and in the same year, in July, in the same Quingzhou snow fell thus it had enormous impact on the production of crops. ( Nanshi ). If you account for Quingzhou province, it is situated at the same latitude of 37 degree in the northern hemisphere, same with Japanese Iwaki City, and the U.S's California, ans also with that of Syria. It would be equivalent with that snow falls in August at all these areas at the same time.


Regardless of AlphaD's answer, who could potentially answer to the OP's question directly, but unfortunately as in my comment to him, I would like to continue. ( Or therefore ).

As expected normally, famine happened in 538 ( Nanshi ), and the Imperial Court ( I would like not to use the word "government", since there was not a "government" in the modern sense. ) decided on the 30th of the January of the year, to implement an amnesty to the tax-cut to its' 12 southern provinces where famines were observed, especially to those who were unable to pay the tax. ( Nanshi ). However, the extraordinarily strange climate continued, finally the Emperor declared on November 541, 「 「 Applying the Road Of Heaven in order to share the benefit of the earth 」 is the old proverb by sages. Except for the lands for the Imperial Household, let us give all the abandoned lands and mulberry fields and houses to the poor. We will look into the labor power of these poor, and in accordance with it, let's give them the appropriate size of arable lands. In accordance with our survey we heard, these riches and mighty people recently exploit our Imperial Houshold's lands, imposing heavy farm rents to the poor, so that damaging our administrative functions to the unparalleled degree. From now on, we will prohibit these mighty people from holding the Imperial Houses' lands, except for the already exploited. If the riches, in cooperation with the poor, try to cultivate the ( abandoned ) lands, this prohibition will be annulled. ( Nanshi ).

I would like to skip the uprising part since the translation of the uprising which occurred at many areas at Liang Dynasty is too difficult with sorry.

Now, moving onto the Cannibalism which was observed in Liang Dynasty ( not in Wei's dynasty ( which is the difference between mine and Lars' ))


These uprisings ( which I skipped to translate ) were quenched happily, but the catastrophic climate didn't stop at all. In September 545, an earthquake happened, in November of the same year, huge snow fell and it amounted to about 99㎝, ( Nanshi ). Nanshi writes, at 3 o'clock? in December in 548, people saw the sky was broken and saw the beam of the fire like a thunder. ( Nanshi ). I don't know what this description by Nanshi would imply, but people in the Liang Dynasty might have seen another volcano explosion which became later the cause of the fall of the yellow dust in 550 ( which was previously mentioned ). Famine erupted elsewhere in the dynasty, so catastrophic it stretched to over 9 rivers? in the dynasty, there appeared the cannibalism, Nanshi reports the death toll of 145 people by it, ( Nanshi ), in addition to it, from the spring to the summer of 550, a huge drought happened, people ate people everywhere. The famine was so devastating near the capitol, Nanshi reports ( Nanshi ) The economics of the Liang Dynasty completely went out of control, which led to the collapse of the dynasty, replaced by the new Chen Dynasty, caused by Hou Jing.

In "my research" there is no description about the death toll of 70-80% by Nanshi. Either the blogger might have skipped to describe it intentionally or may be for another reason. )

I would like to lastly describe about the Beishi.

According to Beishi, the climate change was like this.


On the other hand, according to Beishi, in northern Wei too, abnormal climate started so that at 15-17 o'clock? on Saturday? in May 535, an Imperial decree was issued due to the drought. It orders, 「 From Luoyang ( 洛陽 ) to Chang'an ( 長安 ) and to the all provinces including all the counties, one should bury the corpses. 」( Beishi ). However the drought could not be stopped and continued, even for 5 months in the summer of the same year, a dramatic drought occurred. The imperial court ordered that water be provided to all the people at the gate of Chang'an and that of the Imperial palace, as well as the at the gates of all the imperial offices, ( Beishi ). Furthermore, what worsened the situation was, in 4 provinces, 並、肆、涿、建 ( untranslatable ), there was a frost in August, which caused the pandemic of the great famine, ( Beishi ), therefore on the day of 戊申 ( unknown ), in November in the winter, Court decided to dispatch the imperial monitors to observe those who were damaged by the famine around The Yellow River. ( Beishi ). The pandemic reached to the unimaginable level, Beishi records frogs croaking on the branch of the tree, mass flood occurred in Shandong province, in exchange for the drought which happened previously, in the summer of 538.

This line coincidentally speaks the same devastating events that occurred in Northern Wei described in Lars' answer.


I think drooze made a direct answer to all of the OP's question completely.


I would like to conglomerate some of the supposed events here, as given from the primary historical sources from 《北史》 (History of the Northern Dynasties) and 《南史》 (History of the Southern Dynasties).

The date conversions given in the footnotes are based on the website 兩千年中西曆轉換. All translations given are my own.

《北史》 (History of the Northern Dynasties)

  • 卷05 (Volume 5)

    • 大統......二年......是歲關中大饑人相食死者十七八

      Second year1...of the Dàtǒng era2...this year, Guānzhōng3 suffered a great famine, and cannibalism ensued. Seven to eight out of every ten people died.

《南史》 (History of the Southern Dynasties)

  • 卷07 (Volume 7):

    • 大同......三年春正月......壬寅雨灰黃色

      In Spring, on the first month of the third year4...of the Dàtóng era5...on the rényín day, yellow-coloured dust/ash rained.

    • 六月青州朐山隕霜

      On the sixth month6, the counties of Qīngzhōu and Qúshān suffered frosts.

    • 秋七月青州雪害苗稼

      In autumn, on the seventh month7, Qīngzhōu suffered snowfall, harming the crops.

    • 冬十月丙辰都下地震是歲饑

      In winter, on the tenth month and bǐngchén day8, an earthquake occurred at the capital city. There is a famine this year.


  1. The second year of the Dàtǒng era is dated CE 536 February 8th to 537 January 26th.

  2. Dàtǒng (大統) is an era name of Emperor Wén of the Western Wèi dynasty.

  3. Guānzhōng (關中) does literally translate to within the passes as given by @LarsBosteen's quote, but I think it is rather inappropriate to translate proper nouns literally, regardless of the proper noun's etymology.

  4. The rényín day of the first month of the third year of the Dàtóng era is dated CE 537 February 1st.

  5. Dàtóng (大同) is an era name of Emperor of the Southern Liáng dynasty. Do not get Dàtóng (大同) mixed up with Dàtǒng (大統).

  6. The sixth month of the third year of the Dàtóng era is dated CE 537 June 24th to 537 July 22nd.

  7. The seventh month of the third year of the Dàtóng era is dated CE 537 July 23rd to 537 August 21st.

  8. The bǐngchén day of the tenth month of the third year of the Dàtóng era is dated CE 537 December 12th.

  • If anyone would like more direct quotes for other supposed events from 《北史》 and 《南史》 related to this question, drop a comment and I'll endeavour to find them. Also, a general note to History SE regarding Chinese historical quotes: Please give the original text in Traditional Chinese, not Simplified Chinese. The latter is an orthographic system promulgated in 1956, and is prone to misinterpretation and unsuitable for quoting historical Chinese texts.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 6:44
  • I think you are the one who could finally provide us with the direct answer. It was, as I assumed, recorded in Beishi, right? ( Cannibalism ). Haven't we met somewhere else. lol.
    – user12387
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 7:26
  • @KentaroTomono yes, it was recorded in 《北史》. (We met here, and on Japanese SE).
    – dROOOze
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 7:28

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