Vol. 1 No. 1 (2024)

The Sociopolitical Impact of a Natural Disaster: The Snow Disaster of the Earth-Rat Year (1828) in Northwestern Tibet

Palden Gyal
Columbia University

Published 2024-06-17 — Updated on 2024-07-07



  • Tibetan plateau,
  • heavy snowfall,
  • banditry,
  • migration

How to Cite

Gyal, P. (2024). The Sociopolitical Impact of a Natural Disaster: The Snow Disaster of the Earth-Rat Year (1828) in Northwestern Tibet. Climates and Cultures in History, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.3197/whpcch.63842135436333 (Original work published June 17, 2024)


Drawing on primary historical sources and secondary paleoclimatic data, this paper examines the significant ‘snow disaster’ (gangs skyon) that occurred in the Nagchu region of Northwestern Tibet in 1828. It places this event within the context of the ‘Little Ice Age’, a globally cold period. By analysing reports of natural disasters exchanged between the Ganden Podrang Government and local administrators, the paper argues that the snow disaster led to an ‘unprecedented’ ecological and economic crisis. This crisis resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of livestock and triggered various social and economic catastrophes. It also highlights that the Tibetan government responded by providing relief measures, including the suspension of yearly taxes. Notably, the Qing court extended substantial aid, facilitating the acquisition and replacement of livestock. This study underscores how a single climatic event can contribute to triggering various socio-political challenges in societies that are more exposed to vulnerabilities.


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