Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thank the Chinese

You can thank the Chinese for giving us one of our most enduring Fourth of July traditions: fireworks displays.

The Chinese invented fireworks even before they invented gun powder. According to the website Pyro Universe, fireworks may have been invested accidentally, when chunks of  green bamboo were tossed into a fire around 200 B.C. They burning bamboo snapped, crackled and generally scared the Chinese and their animals. After awhile, a tradition developed of throwing green bamboo on fires at Lunar New Year to scare away the evil spirits for another year. Later, after the Chinese had invented gunpowder, they put this concoction into bamboo tubes. Thus the first firecrackers were born.

Ironically, some places in China ban fireworks today because of the dangers and serious injuries caused to people who don't know how to use them properly. They're also messy. During my first year in Beijing, a friend and I went to Tianjin on Chinese New Year's Day. The streets and sidewalks were covered with red paper remains of fireworks.

Probably the most extravagant display of fireworks I saw in my time in China was the celebration in Beijing after Hong Kong was transferred back to Chinese ownership by the British. That night, the Chinese put on a spectacular celebration involving 18,000 performers at Workers' Stadium in Beijing. One of the things I remember most about that night is sitting maybe 25 feet away from Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his cabinet. It was indeed an awesome night.

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