People have always been interested in what happens when you burn something, boil something, freeze something or melt something. They have always been curious as to what would happen if you added this to that. These types of common, everyday experiments, performed out of curiosity, are the early points from which modern science developed. These early experimenters with mixtures, chemicals and materials are known as alchemists. And in every society, a select few were drawn to the art of alchemy. Chinese alchemical experiments began more than a thousand years before the Europeans developed their alchemical tradition. As early as 200 B.C.E., Han dynasty philosophers began to combine different chemicals and compounds, hoping to transform the normal materials into more valuable ones. Each alchemist had his own goal that he worked towards. In Europe most alchemists hoped to turn lead into gold. In China, the goals were often different.
Chinese Discover Gunpowder
while Searching for an Elixir of Life
To the philosophers of China, nothing was more valuable than life. Therefore, Chinese alchemists searched tirelessly for a potion that would grant immortality or an elixir of life. Many alchemists died after consuming the often deadly potions that they created. But not all alchemists produced such dangerous creations. Chinese alchemists frequently stumbled upon useful materials in their search for eternal life. One such creation was the explosive compound we call gunpowder. Ironically Chinese alchemists, while searching for a potion that would extend lives forever, accidentally found a powder that would cause millions of deaths.China Discovers Gunpowder, Continued
Gunpowder Index Page / Mongols Transmit Gunpowder / Islamic Scientists Adapt Gunpowder / Europeans Refine Gunpowder