Gunpowder (huÇ yào ç«è¯) was invented in China rest on variable interpretations of certain passages in ancient manuscripts. Few substances in history have had as profound an effect on human history as gunpowder, and its discovery was an accident.
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Along with the silk and paper, gunpowder is another invention by Chinese and the Silk Road (sÄ« chóu zhÄ« lù ä¸ç»¸ä¹è·¯) helped it spread to the west. The formula (pèi fÄng é æ¹) of the gunpowder was first discovered by Taoist (dào shì éå£«) alchemists of ancient China when trying to seek the elixir of immortality (cháng shÄng bù lÇo é¿çä¸è). During the Tang Dynasty (táng dài åä»£), around 850 A.D., an enterprising alchemist mixed 75 parts saltpeter (xiÄo shí ç¡ç³) with 15 parts charcoal (mù tàn æ¨ç) and 10 parts sulfur (liú huáng ç¡«ç£º). This mixture had no discernable life-lengthening properties, but it did explode with a flash and a bang when exposed to an open flame. This earliest account reported the experiment: "some have heated together the saltpeter, sulfur and carbon of charcoal with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house burnt down." Books of the middle Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) also recorded the method of producing this kind of gunpowder.
The gunpowder was first used to make firecrackers and fireworks, and then used in military affairs in the late Tang Dynasty, which was first recorded in 919 A.D. By the 11th century, explosive bombs filled with gunpowder and fired from catapults were introduced and used in China. The words "fire cannon " (huÇ pào ç«ç®), "rocket " (huÇ jiàn ç«ç®), "missile " (dÇo dàn å¯¼å¼¹) and "fireball " (huÇ qiú ç«ç) appeared time and again in the official Song (sòng å®) history as well as two other books written during the same period. The first detailed description of using "firing cannon" in warfare was in connection with a battle fought in 1126 when the Song army used it against the invading enemies. The so-called fire cannon was a tube made of bamboo filled with gunpowder which, when fired, threw a flaming missile towards the enemy. Since the barrel was made of bamboo, the flying missile could not cover a long distance. According to a description of a battle scene in 1132, it took two persons to carry a "fire cannon", and the cannons were fired from a moving platform after it had been moved close to the wall of the besieged city.
The Chinese invention of gunpowder never went much beyond its crudest form, and it was abandoned as a military weapon shortly afterwards. From its ancient source in China, it traveled the danger-laden paths of the Silks Road and with it traveled the knowledge to both remakes and destroys the world. By the 13th century the secret had spread to Islamic Asia where it was used against Europeans. Ever since, gunpowder has been an effective weapon of the military and political establishments.
Down through the centuries, Chinese inventions have had a profound effect on human culture. Items like paper, the magnetic compass, and silk have diffused around the world. None of those inventions, however, have had quite the impact that gunpowder has, for good and for bad.
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