A Plague of Locusts in the 940s

In A Portrait of Five Dynasties China, Glen Dudbridge translates and comments on dozens of brief memoirs written by Wáng Rényù 王仁裕 (880-956). Among them are this vivid account of a plague of locusts beginning around 941 and ending in 943.

Late in the Tianfu reign of [Later] Jin (936-944) the world suffered a great plague of locusts which would not be dispersed for years on end. On foot they covered the land, on wing they blotted out the sky. Crops and vegetation vanished without a trace from the bare earth. The nymphs (a kind of locust) at their peak swarmed about in uncountable numbers, even floating on rivers, crossing mountain ridges and passing over pools and moats as thought they were stepping on level ground. They came into people’s homes, and no-one was able to control them. They penetrated doorways, entered through windows. They blocked up wells and latrines. They fouled bed curtains, nibbled away books and clothing. Day after day and night after night the misery was unendurable.

In Yuncheng County there was a farming family who kept a dozen pigs at the time when the nymphs arrived in force on the lakes and marshlands. The pigs leapt upon them to eat them, and in a trice had eaten themselves into a state of immobility. But the nymphs were hungry too, and now munched on the pigs, piling up in a mass. The pigs, tired out, were unable to fend them off, and all were killed by the nymphs.

In the year guimao (943) the locusts, clasping on to vegetation, all withered away. As they say, it is heaven that bestows life and death.

(p. 27-28)