Timing of 1556 and 1679 Earthquakes in China

Updated on June 25, 2020
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Has studied astrology/historical seismology since the late '70s in San Francisco. Published in the ISAR International Astrologer in 2012.

Astrological chart for the Shaanxi, China earthquake of 1556 in Greenwich Time (11pm, Local Mean Time).  Constructed using the Kepler 8.0 program.
Astrological chart for the Shaanxi, China earthquake of 1556 in Greenwich Time (11pm, Local Mean Time). Constructed using the Kepler 8.0 program.

An Astrology Lesson in Historical Chart Construction

This article will explore two earthquakes, both occurring in China before the 18th Century. The first one, estimated to have been 8.0 to 8.3 magnitude in size, caused the death of 830,000 people. The second one, estimated to have been 8.0 magnitude in size, was responsible for 46,000 deaths. In the opinion of this author, both earthquakes have dates and times that are not definite enough for an astrological chart to be constructed with confidence without first reading this presentation.

Part of the reason for the problem of the dates for these earthquakes is the fact that one had to translate the Chinese calendar date to that of either the Julian or Gregorian date. In both instances, it appears that the conversion was at first from the Chinese to the Julian. This conflicts with what one might think a reasonable assumption; namely that, since the Chinese never used the Julian calendar, the date would have been converted from the Chinese to the Gregorian style date. Such an assumption however might only be true if the western calendar used at the time of conversion from the Chinese calendar happened to be the Gregorian style calendar. There are also many academics who feel that all dates prior to October 1582 should be given only in the Julian or Old Style (OS) and all dates after that only in the Gregorian or New Style (NS).

To demonstrate the potential problem with the first earthquake, the deadliest one in recorded history, or the one centered in Shaanxi, China in the year 1556, usually is recorded as having occurred on January 23. However, other sources, often not any less reliable, have given January 24, February 2, or February 3 as the date. Since the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was 10 days at that time, and the time of the quake is given as either just before or after midnight, all of the dates make sense.

In other words, this great quake would have occurred either late on January 23rd or early on January 24th in the Julian calendar or late on February 2nd or early on February 3rd in the Gregorian calendar.

Excerpt from "The Travels of Mendes Pinto", courtesy of Google Books.
Excerpt from "The Travels of Mendes Pinto", courtesy of Google Books.

Or Is That the Last Word?

However, there is one source that makes matters a bit less certain (screen shot from a portion given above). After searching Google Books for “China February 1556 earthquake”, a page came up from The Travels of Mendes Pinto (Fernao Mendes Pinto, Rebecca D. Catz, University of Chicago Press, 1989). In it is stated that there were three main shocks for the 1556 earthquake, occurring about 25 hours apart on the first three days of February. It would appear that the translators of this book converted Julian dates to the Gregorian calendar. The first shock is said to have occurred at 11pm on the first night, 12am on the second night, and 1am on the third, with each quake lasting two hours each.

Since earthquakes don't last 2 hours, it would seem that there was something that got lost in the translation or misinterpreted. The confusion may lie in the fact that the Chinese at the time had 12 hours in a 24 hour day. Each of those hours was the equivalent of 2 hours of our time. The 6th hour of the day was from 11am to 1pm (surrounding noon) and the 12th hour was from 11pm to 1am (surrounding midnight). According to this source, the last shock was the worst of the three by far, causing severe ground deformation and water to flood the area (either rising up from the ground or caused by the collapse of a dam created by landslides from one of the earlier quakes as happened from Chinese earthquakes in the year 1786).

The three dates of course are presented from the Gregorian calendar and thus, for most astrologers, who likely have astrology programs that assume any date entered for an event prior to October 1582 is in the Julian calendar, would have to convert these dates to Julian. The dates and times would then be January 22, 1556 at 11pm, LMT, January 24, 1556 at 12am, LMT, and January 25, 1556 at 1am, LMT.

Most astrological charts constructed for this event use various times between midnight and sunup on the 23rd of January, when the 25th would appear to be the most appropriate.

However, the author prefers a chart constructed for one to two hours before this time (chart given at the top of this hub for 11pm, LMT but displayed as Greenwich Time). One reason for this is because, the Moon-Mercury opposition would be much tighter at such a time (this aspect coming up very often during Great earthquakes, even more so than a full moon). If the correct time for this chart is 11pm, it may be that its rightful place in the order of the 3 quake series would be at the beginning rather than at the end. If this supposition is correct, then the last quake would have therefore been two days later, during a full moon. However, this would only be correct if the dates as given by all of the sources for the main shock are at least two days too early.

Display of peaks in Astro-Aspect Values for the first week of February 1556 (utilizing the Kepler 8.0 Program).
Display of peaks in Astro-Aspect Values for the first week of February 1556 (utilizing the Kepler 8.0 Program).

One piece of evidence that backs up this hunch, that what we are looking at is a chart for the first shock and not the more deadly third one, is how the Astro-Aspect Values (AAV's) chart out over the course of the month of January in the year 1556 (shown above). From that, we see a peak which is in line with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, of February (in the Gregorian calendar and Greenwich time), rather than on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of February. It also suggests that the quake could have occurred as early as 10pm, LMT.

Lastly, if we go back to the original Chinese chronology, based on their lunar calendar, we find it recorded as occurring in the 34th year of the emperor Jianjing. It was also in the 12th month and 12th day of that month. Each lunar month in their calendar began with a New Moon. For that month it occurred at about 11am, LMT on 13 January (in the Julian calendar). That would be the first day of the month and the 12th day would be 24 January. If the time for the first shock form the source I gave earlier is correct (although their date was two days too early), then the date for my earthquake chart is accurate at 11pm, LMT on the 24th of January, 1556 (Julian date) or 3 February, 1556 (Gregorian date).


Can Everyone Be Wrong? (You Betcha!)

In the case of the earthquake which occurred in the year 1679, the date is almost always given as the 2nd of September. However, the earliest source that I have found gives both the Julian (13th of August) and Gregorian (23rd of August). Thus, if this source is correct (which, since it was from the first British geologist, within less than 24 years following the event, it should), then the 2nd of September date was the result of converting the 23rd of August (Gregorian date but assumed to be Julian) a second time in error. A copy from the page of my source (Lectures & Discourses of Earthquakes & Subterraneus Eruptions [report from the posthumous works of Robert Hooke, London, 1705]) is given above. Since this event occurred after 1582, it should be input into all astrology programs as the Gregorian date. Thus, the correct date is 23 August 1679.

Author's version of Great earthquake in China during the year 1679.  Time shown is Greenwich Time or 11:20am, Local Mean Time (constructed using the Kepler 8.0 program).
Author's version of Great earthquake in China during the year 1679. Time shown is Greenwich Time or 11:20am, Local Mean Time (constructed using the Kepler 8.0 program).

As was discussed earlier, the Chinese used 12 equal divisions lasting 2 of our hours for each. This event has been recorded from various sources as having happened anywhere from between 9am to 11am, 11am, or just before noon. It would appear from combining the sources that it occurred shortly after 11am and I have thus used 11:20am, LMT, which places Jupiter on the Descendent (where it is often found in great earthquakes; as well as on the Ascendent). A chart constructed for the recommended date and time is given above.

Exploring how this quake date and time relates to Astro-Aspect Values (given in the graphic representation below), one can see that it coincides with a large peak of 28.78. There is also a significant peak of aspects related to asteroids at the same time.

Display of peaks in Astro-Aspect Values for 20 days beginning 21 August 1679 (utilizing the Kepler 8.0 Program).
Display of peaks in Astro-Aspect Values for 20 days beginning 21 August 1679 (utilizing the Kepler 8.0 Program).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Joseph Ritrovato


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