Long-lasting drought can have a serious impact on human society and even lead to regime change and the demise of civilizations. Case studies will help to understand the evolution and mechanism of drought under different spatiotemporal scales and social contexts, providing references for dealing with the risk brought by extreme drought. In the late 1920s, northern China witnessed an extreme drought, however, the government had done little to deal with it, causing large losses at the time. This extreme drought event can be served as a case study of the social impact of drought. We collected newspaper records during the drought period, processed qualitative records with textual analysis, and explored the impact path of drought on the human system with network analysis. This research draws the following conclusions: (1) The great drought in northern China caused 19 kinds of recorded events to the human system. (2) The transmission process of drought impact on the human system had two characteristics: hierarchical propagation and cascading effects. The former was reflected in the transmission process of drought impacts among natural, supporting and humanity systems, and the latter was reflected in the transmission process of drought impact within the humanity system. (3) The core event of the natural system is “meteorological drought”; the core event of the supporting system is “food production damage”; the core events of the humanity system are “physical health decline” and “eating alternative foods” (population subsystem), “rising of food prices” (economic subsystem) and “bandits” (social subsystem). These events constitute the main network of how drought affected society. (4) The most special event among all events is “food production damage”, which receives most of the effects of meteorological drought, transmits the effects to other systems and controls the transition of drought effects from nature to human society. Strengthening the resilience of food production systems is an important measure to control the escalation of drought effects.

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