Ancient China Fireworks

Everyone around the world loves to watch fireworks, yet very few know that it was the ancient Chinese that invented them.

They began to experiment with fireworks and then developed them in 202 B.C. as part of a Daoist religious ceremony.

The Daoists studied chemicals and elements in a science form called alchemy. During the Han dynasty, the emperors begged the Daoists to find an element that would allow them to live forever.
Ancient Chinese Fireworks

The discovery of fireworks was the result of their experimentation in finding this element; but it took a long time to perfect it.

The first fireworks

The Daoist scientists made fireworks by combining sulfur and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). While this combination and no other that they ever found could guarantee immortality, they did create the base product for fireworks.

It wasn’t until 220 A.D. that members of the Song dynasty (11th century) added the additional element of charcoal to the mixture that created a closer idea of fireworks.

Once they discovered that charcoal was the final ingredient needed for an explosion, they would mix up the elements and throw them into a fire. This created a lot of popping and sparks.
Fireworks Burning


The chemical potassium nitrate makes things burn and gives the fireworks the energy that it requires to burst out of a container or to explode.

When you hear that bang from fireworks, it’s the potassium nitrate. Sulfur is a gas that is used to make the fireworks spray out from the container and yes, it’s that same horrible rotten egg smell.

Charcoal is what we get when we burn wood slowly and it’s what burns when the fire touches the fireworks.

Later fireworks

The Chinese eventually figured out that if they added the three elements to bamboo tubes or hollowed out wood and then threw them into a fire it would cause the explosions to move the wood high into the air and the sparks would leap from the ends of the wood.
Fireworks in Ancient China
This was used during nighttime celebrations when the sparks would light up the night sky. To get the colors that we see in today’s fireworks additional metals must be added. Each metal offers a different color.

  • The original Chinese fireworks were designed to scare off evil spirit as well as promote prosperity.
  • Today, China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks anywhere in the world.
  • The Western World discovered fireworks and the 1strecorded use is listed in 1486 at the wedding of King Henry VII in England.
  • The biggest firework rocket was registered in 2010 in Portugal as 13 kg.
  • Queen Elizabeth loved fireworks so much that she created a title for the person creating the best fireworks of “Fire Master of England.”
  • The Japanese have a beautiful name for fireworks: hanabi – which means “fire-flower.”
  • The sparklers that we use for celebrations can reach temperatures over 15 times that of boiling water.
  • Three sparklers put together generate as much heat as is found in a blowtorch.
  • To celebrate Bastille Day, France uses fireworks.
  • Italy was the first country to experiment with and then master the use of fireworks in Europe. They instituted the use of shells for firecrackers that were then loaded into canons and shot into the air.
  • It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that new colors were added to fireworks.
  • The most difficult color to achieve in fireworks is blue.
  • In 1996, people in Hong Kong created a string of firecrackers that lasted 22 hours for New Years Day celebrations.
  • The record for the largest fireworks display was set in 2006 in Portugal with 66,326 fireworks.
  • The largest fireworks display event in Europe occurs every year at the International Festival concert in Edinburgh, Scotland where they set off 1 million fireworks in less than 1 hour.


What are the three main ingredients for the original ancient Chinese fireworks?

sulfur, potassium nitrate (saltpeter) and charcoal

What was the original purpose that the Daoists were requested when they discovered fireworks?

an element to live forever for the emperor

What did the ancient Chinese use fireworks for?

to scare off evil spirits and to bring about prosperity

What chemical makes the rotten egg smell?


What did the ancient Chinese add fireworks to so that they would explode into the sky?

hollowed out wood or bamboo

What do you have to add to fireworks to get the various colors?

different metals