Opinion — How the Chinese invented fireworks and the saddle

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, August 19, 2021

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The Chinese have a fascinating and rich culture, and the invention of fireworks and the saddle can be included with distinction. We take for granted those things, which have enhanced our modern life from before the birth of Christ.

Fireworks are known for their loud noise and bright colors of red, orange, yellow, blue and green. The Chinese were the original inventors of colorful pyrotechnics. Just think — the Fourth of July, Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn Moon Festival are among the cultural events and festivals in which fireworks are an anticipated occurrence.

In fact, China is the largest manufacturer as well as exporter of fireworks globally.

The first fireworks were invented during the Song dynasty (960-1279) and were used in a multitude of festivities. In China, the art and science of fireworks making became an independent profession. Pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of the complexities of mounting firework displays. Tubes made from rolled sheets of paper containing gunpowder and a fuse were used. The Chinese developed a technique of stringing firecrackers together in large clusters so they could be set off one by one in close sequence. This was called bian or bianpao (whip, whip cannon).

Before that, during the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A. D.) bamboo stems were thrown into a fire to produce an explosion with a loud sound. By the 12th century, baozhang was a term used specifically to refer to gunpowder firecrackers.

Moreover, one could purchase various kinds of fireworks at markets during the Song dynasty. You could be treated to grand displays of fireworks.

In 1240, Arabs acquired knowledge of gunpowder and its uses from the Chinese. In order to produce colored fireworks, the Chinese applied chemical substances to create colored smoke and fire; for example, arsenic sulphide for yellow, copper acetate for green, lead-carbonate for lilac-white and mercurous chloride for white.

Many countries have taken the expertise of the Chinese and replicated fireworks for their own creations. Consequently, since loud fireworks have become a concern for traumatized pets, wildlife and even humans, silent fireworks have become extremely popular. You can achieve the same beauty of spectacle but without the noise.

Furthermore, during the Han dynasty, the Chinese invented the solid-treed saddle. Earlier saddles provided no protection for one’s bottom or comfort. With the development of the solid saddle tree, a rider is raised above the horse’s back, and the rider’s weight is distributed on either side of the horse’s spine instead of all the pressure on the rider’s tailbone. In addition, this increased the horse’s comfort as well as the rider’s. Subsequently, today’s stirrup was derived from this invention. Without this addition, one’s horse develops a sore back. The first modern stirrup was found in a Jin dynasty tomb around 302 A. D., and by 477 A. D. the stirrup was in widespread use in China.

Ultimately, we can recognize the contributions of the Chinese people with the invention of fireworks and the saddle. When we see a fireworks display next July Fourth or a bronco rider in a rodeo competition, let us think about the ingenuity of a people who gave us fun in the midnight sky and the freedom to ride like the wind.

Judy Moore, a tour guide at The Central High Museum lives in Wylliesburg, VA and can be reach ed at v5agabond2@gmail.com.