The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, was a devastating epidemic that occurred during the fourteenth century that wiped out large portions of the populations of Northern, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as parts of Asia and northern Africa. Because historical documentation of the disease was much more prevalent in Europe than it was in Asia at the time, it was widely believed that the epidemic must have started in Europe; however evidence points to its origins in China or the central Asian steppes.
In Hebei province in China, in 1334, the disease wiped out nearly 90% of the population. All told, China was very hard hit by the plague, with the population of this vast country being decimated by more than half; 65 million people out of a total estimated population of 1200 had lost their lives by 1393; and it believed a large portion of these deaths were due to the plague epidemic.
The plague spread quickly in densely-populated urban regions, and those without proper sanitation, because it was carried by the infected fleas found on rats and other rodents. Although it is estimated that roughly half of those people infected could survive the illness, in some regions with harsh weather conditions or low supplies of food, or generally rough living situations (inadequate shelter or water for maintaining hygiene), the mortality rate was much higher.
The social, political and economic implications of the epidemic were enormous. Loss of life meant inability to maintain basic economic structures; loss of people to maintain agricultural practices (farming and animal husbandry, as well as harvesting wild crops such as fruit) meant widespread food shortages. The maintenance of a military presence would have been nearly impossible due to loss of life and destabilization of leadership. Rebuilding the economies of rural villages was slow and difficult, particularly if any of the affected regions were also subject to harsh weather or natural catastrophes such as drought, monsoon or extreme heat or cold.
The social implications in Europe were tied to religious belief systems; it was thought that the plague was a sign of evil, or a curse brought on by witches; in this way the Black Death sowed the seeds for the witch craze in Europe which continued for hundreds of years, and lasted through the 17th century and beyond. Such beliefs were also common in various other countries, particularly some sections of Africa, where the presence of disease to this day is often linked to accusations of witchcraft and demon worship or possession.