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Earliest historical records of typhoons in China

Earliest historical records of typhoons in China

By Kin-sheun Louie and Kam-biu Liu

Journal of Historical Geography, Vol.29:3 (2003)

Abstract: Based on an original survey and a critical evaluation of the Chinese historical and scientific literature, this paper ascertains that by as early as the fifth century AD, the typhoon had been recognized by the people of southern China as a distinct meteorological phenomenon. A specific term, ju or jufeng, was accordingly coined, with rather accurate specifications given to it. A typhoon that struck the coastal city of Mizhou in Shandong Province of northern China in AD 816 is the earliest recorded tropical cyclone landfall in China, and perhaps also in the world. The typhoon as a weather phenomenon was frequently mentioned, described, and discussed in many works, including history books, poems and government documents, in the ninth century AD. Such a societal understanding of typhoons made an accurate report of typhoon landfall in AD 816 possible. Another typhoon that struck Qingyuan County in central Guangdong Province in AD 819 was encountered by a leading scholar who described it in his poem. This is the second earliest typhoon landfall recorded in China.

Introduction: Along with geological proxy evidence, historical documentary records are a major source of information for reconstructing a long-term history of tropical cyclone activity that extends beyond the period of instrumental observation. However, the length of the documentary record and the quality of these historical data vary from region to region. Among the five land and sea regions affected by tropical cyclones (North Atlantic, Northeast Pacific, South Pacific, Northwest Pacific, Bay of Bengal), three are in the New World. In North America including Mexico and the Caribbean, no record of Atlantic or Pacific hurricanes exists before the Columbian contact. Neither does any documentary record of Australian cyclones exist before the arrival of Europeans. In the Old World, historical records are poorly preserved in the Indian civilization. Thus, the earliest historical records of tropical cyclones in the world are expected to occur in China, where the documentary history spans about the last 3500 years. A recent study using Fang Zhi (semi-official local gazette, also known as local gazetteer) has yielded a 1025-year record of typhoon landfalls for the Guangdong Province of southern China that starts in AD 975. Is the typhoon that struck Guangzhou in AD 975 the earliest recorded typhoon landfall in China? How did societal understanding of the typhoon as a weather phenomenon originate, evolve, and disseminate before the second millennium AD? In this paper, we attempt to document the earliest knowledge of typhoons in Chinese historical records based on an original survey and critical evaluation of the Chinese historical and scientific literature.

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