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Learn Chinese - History and Culture

The Invention of Gunpowder
Gunpowder (huǒ yào 火药) 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.

saltpeterAlong with the silk and paper, gunpowder is another invention by Chinese and the Silk Road (sī chóu zhī lù 丝绸之路) helped it spread to the west. The formula (pèi fāng 配方) of the gunpowder was first discovered by Taoist (dào shì 道士) alchemists of ancient China when trying to seek the elixir of immortality (cháng shēng bù lǎo 长生不老). During the Tang Dynasty (táng dài 唐代), around 850 A.D., an enterprising alchemist mixed 75 parts saltpeter (xiāo shí 硝石) with 15 parts charcoal (mù tàn 木炭) and 10 parts sulfur (liú huáng 硫磺). 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.

sulfurThe 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 " (huǒ pào 火炮), "rocket " (huǒ jiàn 火箭), "missile " (dǎo dàn 导弹) and "fireball " (huǒ qiú 火球) appeared time and again in the official Song (sòng 宋) history as well as two other books written during the same period. Thegunpowder 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.


four inventions of China      火药是中国古代炼丹家在炼丹过程中发明的。人类最早使用的火药是黑火药,它是我国劳动人民在一千多年前发明的。它的发明,闻名于世,被称为我国古代科技的四大发明之一。

      秦汉之际炼丹术开始盛行,方士们为了炼制仙丹妙药,把各类药物彼此配合烧炼。硝石与三黄(硫磺、雄黄、雌黄)共炼燃烧爆炸,因此导致了火药的发明。有记载,托名西晋郑思远所撰名为《真元妙道要略》的一本炼丹书里,就曾谈到:有人将硫磺、硝石、雄黄(As2S3)和蜜合起来一起烧,结果火焰升起,把脸和手烧坏,而且直冲屋顶,把房子也烧了。这类实验的多次进行,经验的不断积累,认识的逐步提高,使人们终于掌握了火药的配制。同类的实验在唐代中期的《铅汞甲 辰至宝集成》卷二中也有记载,并且记载有关于失败的教训,也从而学会利用这种混合物的燃烧爆炸性能。

      据宋代路振的《九国志》记载,唐哀帝时(十世纪),郑王番率军攻打豫章(今江西南昌),“发机飞火”,烧毁该城的龙沙门。这可能是有关用火药攻城的最早记 载。到了两宋时期火药武器发展很快。据《宋史.兵记》记载:公元970年兵部令史冯继升进火箭法,这种方法是在箭杆前端缚火药筒,点燃后利用火药燃烧向后 喷出的气体的反作用力把箭簇射出,这是世界上最早的喷射火器。公元1000年,士兵出身的神卫队长唐福向宋朝廷献出了他制作的火箭、火球、火蒺藜等火器。 北宋末年出现了爆炸威力比较大的火器“霹雳炮”、“震天雷”。公元1126年,李纲守开封时,就用霹雳炮击退了金兵的围攻。南宋时出现了管状火器,公元 1132年陈规发明了火枪。火枪是由长竹竿做成,先把火药装在竹竿内,作战时点燃火药喷向敌军。陈规守安德时就用了“长竹竿火枪二十余条”。gunpowder

      早在八、九世纪时,和医药、炼丹术的知识一起,硝也由中国传到阿拉伯。13世纪火药是由商人经印度传入阿拉伯国家的。在与阿拉伯国家的战争中,欧洲人逐步 掌握了制造火药和火药兵器的技术。火药传到欧洲后,被各国用来制造兵器,还在开山、修路、挖河等工程中广泛使用,中国的火药推进了世界历史的进程。


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