It’s been two months since the Nepal earthquake, which killed more than 8,800 people. Closer to home, a rare earthquake struck the Malaysian state of Sabah less than a month ago.

The first recorded earthquake in Chinese history occurred in 780BC in present-day Shaanxi during the final years of the Western Zhou dynasty. According to the chroniclers, the earthquake was so severe that the Jing, Wei and Luo rivers dried up, and the Qi mountain collapsed. The most devastating earthquake in Chinese history was the Jiajing earthquake, which occurred, in modern reckoning, on January 23, 1556, during the reign of the Ming dynasty’s Jiajing Emperor. The horrific quake, which occurred simultaneously in the present-day provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan and Gansu, could be felt as far as the southern coast. A plaque, erected three years later, described how “cracks appeared on the ground, out of which water gushed … City walls and houses disappeared into the ground, and plains suddenly folded into hills … The Yellow and Wei rivers were inundated, and the [permanently silted] waters of the Yellow river were clear for several days”.

The most terrible outcome of the Jiajing earthquake was the reported death toll of more than 830,000 people, which, if accurate, would make it the deadliest earthquake in history. The disaster further weakened the Ming dynasty, which was then already in a state of steady decline.