How Did The Chinese Invent Fireworks?-Yan Hua

One of the best parts about ushering in a new year is the colorful fireworks that are set off into the sky. The loud sounds give us a touch of adrenaline which allows us to transition into the next year feeling so alive! Fireworks have been around for hundreds of years and they weren’t just used to transition into the next year. They have a very rich history which we should learn to help us appreciate them even more.

What are Chinese Fireworks?

chinese baozhu

Chinese fireworks are a major part of Chinese culture and are used on occasions such as wedding ceremonies, New Year’s Eve, festivals, and business-opening ceremonies. Chinese fireworks known as Baozhu in China are a type of small explosives created by burning bamboo stems. These were known as firecrackers. Afterward, these bamboo stems were combined with sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate which created the Chinese fireworks.

Fireworks symbolism in China

An incomplete New Years’ celebration in China would be kicking off the New Year without setting off fireworks. In China, this is the most common way fireworks are used. However, these fireworks are set off at different times, depending on the region, and each time a firework is set off, symbolizes something. One of the most common times that the Chinese set off the fireworks is before New Year’s Eve dinner. Once families finish preparing their reunion dinner, the families light fireworks or firecrackers to invite their ancestors to join them in celebrating the festival. It also adds a joyous ambiance to the festival. The Chinese also set off fireworks at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day. This probably sounds familiar to the non-Chinese since many countries light their fireworks for celebration at the stroke of midnight on New Year. In their culture, it is tradition to stay up until midnight after the reunion dinner. The Chinese believe that the fireworks ward off evil spirits and usher in a safe and prosperous new year. In some regions, the Chinese also set off fireworks on New Year’s Day morning as soon as they open the door or before leaving the house. This represents good fortune throughout the year. Fireworks are also set off during the end of the Lantern Festival in China to ward off bad luck and bring good fortune. But what happens once the fireworks have been set off and everything has cooled down? Even some of the activities that take place in Chinese households post fireworks have some intent to them. The fireworks leave behind red papers which the Chinese do not sweep since sweeping the residue is associated with sweeping wealth away.

Chinese fireworks history

When were Chinese fireworks invented?

fireworks Symbol

The Chinese fireworks were invented around 200 BC, in ancient Liuyang, China. Firecrackers were created first by tossing bamboo stems into the fire. These firecrackers were developed around 800 AD to create the first Chinese fireworks.

Who invented fireworks in China?

At around 600-900 AD, historians state that a monk called Li Tan who hoped to find the secret to eternal life created the firecracker, which came before the fireworks. At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), Sun Si Miao who was a famous Chinese alchemist and medicine man developed the firecracker into fireworks.

Why did the Chinese invent fireworks?

The Chinese invented fireworks to ward off evil spirits, and to celebrate births, weddings, holidays, coronations, and funerals. During 1200-1600 AD, the Chinese military adopted gunpowder and used it to build the first rocket cannons. The cannons protected them from their enemies on the battlefield. With time this development led to the first aerial fireworks which were used off the battlefield. In the 12th century, the Chinese also used gunpowder to celebrate a visit of the Chinese emperor

How were fireworks invented?

Like most inventions, fireworks were created unintentionally. Bamboo stalks were tossed into a fire and the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the bamboo stalks would cause an explosion with a bang. However, this was just a stepping stone in creating the fireworks. These bangs were known as firecrackers. Years later, a Chinese monk called Sun Si Miao mixed sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate which produced a black and flaky powder, making history as the first gunpowder. This powder was then poured into the previously mentioned hollow bamboo sticks resulting in the world’s first man-made fireworks. Initially, the fireworks weren’t as colorful as we know them to be today. It took a lot of experimenting and the Chinese figured out that adding certain chemicals or substances to fire would cause color changes. These substances such as arsenical sulfide and copper acetate were used by the military to create different shades of smoke. It is only around 1830 that a couple of Italian Chemists finally figured out how to achieve color combinations via oxidation which emitted bright colors. These are the modern-day fireworks that we know now.

How were fireworks made in ancient China?

Fireworks would simply be made by mixing sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate and throwing it into the fire. However, with time, the Chinese found a better way to make fireworks. They poured the gunpowder formed into hollow bamboo sticks and threw them into the fire. As the bamboo tubes burned, they flew into the air and white sparks shooting out of the tubes flew out into the night sky.

Why were fireworks important in ancient China?

ancient chinese fireworks

The main importance as well as the most ancient reason why fireworks are so important in ancient China was to scare off evil spirits. The sparks produced were believed to be a good omen and the smoke would create a healthy atmosphere. After the Chinese developed firecrackers into fireworks, they used gunpowder for protection from their enemies. During the Song Dynasty, the Chinese began using fireworks in their festivities such as local festivals like weddings, birthdays, honoring of guests, and national celebrations like the Lantern Festival, Chinese Lunar New Year, and China National Day.

What were ancient Chinese Fireworks used for

Despite the modern-day fireworks being used for numerous reasons in China, the main use was to ensure the people of China lived in peace and worked in prosperity by scaring off evil spirits. Fireworks were also a source of income for the Chinese since they were exported to other countries in the mid-1800s. These fireworks were transported and sold to twenty countries. Some of these countries include Japan, Singapore, Britain, America, Canada, Sweden, Egypt, Russia, Korea, and Australia. The ancient Chinese also used fireworks during times of celebrations. This gunpowder was used by the military as protection from their enemies.

Why do we use fireworks on New Year?

new year fireworks

The act of setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve can be traced back to ancient China, where they used fireworks to scare any evil spirits lurking. We also use fireworks on New Year simply to give us light by restoring the missing sunshine. During New Years’ it is winter in some regions and this season is usually accompanied by frozen rivers and stunted growth of crops. The natives who lived before calendars and diaries noticed this pattern every year thanks to the patterns of the sun and moon. They conducted ceremonial fires and set off fireworks to force the sun to return and to help the crops grow.


Fireworks are what every major celebration needs and it’s amazing to see how despite every country having its new year traditions, we all incorporate them into our celebration. The Chinese deserve our appreciation for creating this work of art.

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