Finding Fault: Earthquakes During the Reign of Tang Dezong (785-805)
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Drawing from trends in environmental and disaster studies, this study examines the meaning of earthquakes within the official histories of China's Tang Dynasty (618-907), specifically those during the reign of Emperor Dezong (r. 785-805), as both historiographic metaphors and incidents of real natural-induced disaster. Earthquakes, like other forms of potentially harmful natural phenomena, demonstrated, the Chinese believed, Heaven's dissatisfaction with a sitting ruler. Over time, ministers and court scholars sought to draw connections between earthquakes and specific forms of behavior in attempts to perhaps prevent future incidents of seismic reproach. And though certain relationships are articulated more clearly in some parts of the histories than others, earthquakes nevertheless demonstrated an ability to engender a great sense of uncertainty and discord within historical memory. Consequently, the reading of the natural world codified in the official histories marked an attempt by the Chinese state to control human behavior for generations to come.