Maunder Minimum and Fall of Ming Dynasty

Russ Steele

Doing some research for another project, I came across this bit of China history during the Maunder Minimum.

A Prolonged drought in Norther China during the Maunder Minimum is credited with the fall of the Ming Dynasty.

In June 1644 the great Ming Empire that had ruled China since 1368 came to an end when Manchu tribesmen from the north took Beijing and founded the Qing rule.

“There is no easy way to explain how the Manchus with a population of about one million, could by 1644 seize the throne of China”

Huang,R., China: A Macro-History M.E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York (1988)

However there was a climatic explanation for this event according to Sultan Hameed, Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres, at Stony Brook University and Gaofa Gong at the Institute for Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

  • Northern China experienced droughts lasting15 years (1628-43) prior to the dynasty change.
  • The resulting famines led to an extensive breakdown of social order and a large number of peasant rebellions.

The Authors cite the following from  Van Loon, Meehl & Arblaster (2004)

  • There is deficiency of precipitation in North China with low solar activity is consistent with the results an extended drought.
  • Their explanation is that the Hadley circulation weakens with decreasing solar activity and vice versa.
  • There may be a temperature related effect also. The annual average temperature in China was about 1oC colder during the Maunder Minimum.
  • The Subtropical High in the north Pacific shifts southward with decreasing temperature.

In Summary:

  • Droughts of multi-year durations dominated northern China during 1628-1644, associated with the low solar activity and cold conditions of the Maunder Minimum.
  • The Droughts led to widespread famines,a general collapse of social order and political change.

My question is, if we have another grand minimum like the Maunder, will we have long term drought and a general collapse of social order when millions are starving?


3 thoughts on “Maunder Minimum and Fall of Ming Dynasty

  1. chillguy33 March 31, 2012 / 7:15 am

    Hi, Russ,

    You ask the most important question of the decade – crucial for the coming decades.

    We should all emit more carbon dioxide in case it helps – although very doubtful it will.

    Too few of us ask the question you have framed well.

    • Russ March 31, 2012 / 9:54 am


      Thanks for the kind words. I am hoping that more people will start asking that question of our political leaders. They are preparing for the wrong kind of climate change.

  2. Susan Ferguson June 22, 2014 / 2:02 pm

    Great post! Thank you. I was just asking myself this very question today.
    I have been researching B.G. Tilak’s book The Artic Home in the Vedas.
    I’m happy to have found your blog.
    Kind regards.

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