The history of fireworks
The history of fireworks goes back thousands of years to China. It is believed that fireworks were invented in china 2000 years ago. There is a legend behind their existence and it is believed that these magical lights were discovered by a Chinese cook after mixing charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter. When the mixture burned in a bamboo tube enclosure, it exploded.
There is confusion on the time of fireworks discovery. Some sources state that they were discovered 2000 years ago, while other sources place the discovery sometime during the 9th century during the Song dynasty (960-1279). This, however, could be confusion between the discovery of gunpowder by the cook and the invention of the firecracker. A Chinese monk called Li Tian living in the city of Liu Yang in Hunan Province is said to be the inventor of firecrackers about 1000 years ago.
There is a Chinese celebration every 18th of April to celebrate the invention of the fireworks. They do this by offering sacrifices to Li Tian. During the Song Dynasty, the local people established a temple to worship Li Tian. In later years, as well as now, fireworks are believed to scare evil spirits. The evil spirits and ghosts are said to be scared off by the loud bangs of firecrackers. Therefore, fireworks are very important and are used for this reason during births, deaths and birthdays. Chinese New Year is a colorful event that is full of fireworks as a symbol of ushering in a New Year that is free of the evil spirits.
To this day, the city of Liuyang in Hunan Province is the main production area in the world for fireworks. Many critics say that firecrackers are produced in China to make use of the cheap and readily available labor. It is good to remember that the history of fireworks goes back to China and is dated thousand years ago. Therefore the fireworks industry has been in existence long before the advent of modern day slavery and disparity in east-west wage rates.
The gunpowder is credited to Marco polo, who is believed to have brought back the Chinese gunpowder to Europe in the 13th century. There is another school of thought that believes that the crusaders brought black powder to Europe as they returned from their journeys. The black powder was used for military purposes, first in rockets, then in canons and guns. Italians took the precedence of using gunpowder to manufacture fireworks. Another European country that followed suit is Germany and emerged as a fireworks leader along with Italy in the 18th century.
Most American display companies are operated by families of Italian descent such as the Grucci family, Rozzi family, and Zambelli family. The fireworks also fascinated the English and in Britain, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, we can even find the mention of firecrackers in great works such as that of William Shakespeare. The queen enjoyed the fireworks so much that a position of "Fire Master of England” was created. King James II was so pleased with the fireworks display that celebrated his coronation that he knighted his Fire Master.
After normalization of relations with the Chinese Communist government in the early 1970s by President Nixon, the American fireworks industry really began to influence Chinese manufacturers.
Previously, business was being done between U.S. and Chinese companies through Hong Kong brokers with little or no direct contact with mainland manufacturers. In the 1970s and 1980s, China’s distribution channels were state owned and fireworks that were produced then were exported through government owned provincial export corporations.
Products produced in Hunan went through the Hunan Export Corporation, and products produced in Jiangxi went through the Jiangxi Export Corporation, and so on. During this period, factories were not expected to make a profit, but rather their goal was to keep people working in a region of China where there was no real industry other than agriculture. The Chinese government subsidized these factories to keep production going.
When the products reached the provincial Export Corporation, they sold to Hong Kong brokers who were the connection between Mainland China and the foreign business entities. The brokers got orders, arranged logistics, and helped finance shipments to the U.S. distributors. When Chairman Deng Xiaoping, the only formally educated leader, came into power and saw that this regime was not working, Communism simply did not work economically. Chairman Deng began a policy of economic reform that basically set China on the road toward capitalism.
That is when China opened up its borders to visiting U.S. importers. The first American fireworks buyers were able to travel to the production regions and establish relations with Hong Kong exporters and the provincial export corporations. Consumer fireworks received intense scrutiny in the 1980s by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
To correct the situation, representatives from the CPSC, American Pyrotechnics Association, and Hong Brokers Association spent 10 days in Southern China meeting with representatives from each export corporation and factory managers, on a province by province basis. The meetings involved shooting each item produced in China and determining what the appropriate and correct warning descriptions and print size should be from the point of view of providing safe warning labels for the American consumers.
Chairman Jiang Zemin brought about economic reforms in the 1990s and the Chinese fireworks factories started making profits for the first time. It was during this period that many Provincial Export Corporation personnel left the government owned companies and were permitted to start their own. The companies worked through the Hong Kong brokers but now they were able to sell to the US directly. This revolution saw the spring up of private labels in order for U.S. companies to differentiate their product lines. China is now open to all, with small mainland export-broker companies forming and folding each month.