Accidental Discovery of Gunpowder

July 17, 2010

Sulfur is the main ingredient for gunpowder. It was first developed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). During the Northern Sung Dynasty, in 1044 AD, the book “Essentials of Military Art” published several formulas for gunpowder production. It is ironic that the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD) used a Tang Dynasty invention to defeat them.

Several ingredients for gunpowder were in wide use for medicinal purposes during the Spring and Autumn Period of China’s history (722 – 481 BC).

According to the famous book “Records of History”, Chang Sangjun, shared secret prescriptions with Pien Ch’iao (around 500 BC), who promised not to give the secret away then became famous as a doctor of Chinese medicine.

Gunpowder was discovered a thousand years ago by accident.  While mixing ingredients to find an elixir for immortality, Chinese scientists stumbled on the formula.  Fireworks and rockets came first to scare away evil spirits. The irony is that gunpowder, which has killed millions used as weapons, came about during the search for eternal life.

One theory says that the knowledge of gunpowder came to Europe along the Silk Road around the beginning of the 13th century, hundreds of years after being discovered in China. It is also ironic, that Britain and France used advanced gunpowder weapons to defeat China during the 19th century in the two Opium Wars.

For other Chinese inventions, see China Points the Way – the invention of the compass


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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