The fact is that for the production of gunpowder three main ingredients are needed: saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur. There is plenty of charcoal in China. It is much more difficult with the other two ingredients.
Until the XVIII century, sulfur was not extracted by chemical reactions, and there is only one birthplace of natural sulfur on Earth, in the mouth of the volcano Etna, in Sicily. It was only in the XVIII century that people learned to extract sulfur from the pyrite of sulfur, the mass use of artillery on the battlefield began approximately at this time.
Saltpeter is not found in China also, and never was. Moreover, even the nearest deposit of this most important component for the production of gunpowder is very far from China – on the island of Ceylon.
What’s happening here, the Chinese invented gunpowder without saltpeter? It just can’t be. It is also impossible to assume that saltpeter in ancient times was delivered to the Middle Kingdom by merchants. The fact is that saltpeter was widely used in agriculture only at the end of the 19th century. Then why, in this case, would someone import a completely unnecessary salt to China, especially for the invention of gunpowder or what? Moreover, there is practically no information about Chinese merchants and, in general, about world trade relations with ancient China.
Someone may think that the clever Chinese replaced the saltpeter and sulfur with some other substances. But from the whole periodic table, only saltpeter and sulfur can be components of the black powder (gunpowder). Modern black powder for hunting rifles is also made in this way. Smokeless, or pyroxylin powder was invented in the middle of the XIX century. It is made like this: ordinary cotton is treated with nitric acid, pyroxylin is obtained, and course-grained artillery gunpowder and fine-grained rifle gunpowder are made from it. All other quick-burning substances are explosive! They cannot be used as substitutes for gunpowder – any cannon will be blown to smithereens, even with a small charge.
Another logical question. If gunpowder was invented in China and fireworks were even made from it, why didn’t the Chinese think about using it for military purposes?
When gunpowder came to Europe, the Europeans, thanks to this Chinese invention, managed to bring the whole world to its knees, dividing it among themselves into colonies and spheres of influence. And China, having gunpowder technology, on the contrary, eventually fell victim to European empires, since it didn’t even know about its potential military use.
According to the official version, this was not necessary. For thousands of years in the Middle Kingdom, a state stood with its sole right to violence. Even the epochs of distemper still ended with the establishment of a dynasty, which was governed by strict laws, Confucian rules and Buddhism.
Translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir