PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am

The Chinese invented it

Gunpowder was the first chemical explosive ever invented. The Chinese created it in the 9th century, historians think. They were not even looking for an explosive. 'Scientists' were trying to come up with something that would make people live forever. Instead they invented something that would kill millions of people.

Nobody is really sure if gunpowder spread from China, or if other countries discovered it on their own. In the 11th century the Song dynasty government made it illegal to sell gunpowder to foreigners. Still, by the late 13th century, the Islamic world had discovered gunpowder.

The age of the gun

At first, European armies looked down on gunpowder. This was the age of the knights who said gunpowder was black magic. But by the 14th century, every European army was using guns or muskets - the earliest version of the rifle. Ming dynasty troops began using them around the same time.

By the 16th century, armies all over the world were using different forms of the musket. It still took handguns a long time to completely replace crossbows and long bows.

One of the main reasons was a good archer was more accurate. Another was that most handguns at that time did not work in the rain.

'Fire lances' and the end of the castle

The earliest cannons were made in China. They were called 'fire lances'. A tube containing gunpowder fired a spear. But it could only be used at close range.

By the 14th century, the Chinese had developed real cannons. They were even mounted on the Great Wall for protection against the Mongols.

Turkish Ottomans used cannons when they surrounded Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453. Two-hundred men were needed to operate one cannon. They brought down the city's walls. This brought an end to the age of the walled city and the castle.

And fireworks

Gunpowder may not be a pleasant thing, but fireworks - created from gunpowder - have made people happy. Fireworks were invented in China probably around the 7th century. They might have been used to frighten away evil spirits. This is still the case in some places. Today they are a huge industry. They light up the sky on special occasions.

now do this

1 The ... dynasty banned the export of gunpowder from China.

a. Song

b. Ming

c. Qing

2 Cannons were first developed by ...

a. the Ottomans

b. the British

c. the Chinese

3 Constantinople fell in ...

a. 1363

b. 1453

c. 1066




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