Fireworks, gunpowder are double-edged sword

Home > National >

print dictionary print

Fireworks, gunpowder are double-edged sword

The author is the head of the Innovation Lab of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“This was not done by the power of man but was ordered by the Heavenly God,” says the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The remarks were made by a Japanese envoy who saw the fireworks displayed by the military of Joseon in the first year of King Jeongjong’s reign in 1399. Fireworks originated in China. It created a primitive flame in the early 7th century, and in the 9th century, fireworks were devised in the process of studying gunpowder manufacturing.

In Korea, fireworks are estimated to have started during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Since the reign of King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty, fireworks displays using gunpowder became an annual event. It was King Seongjong in the 15th century who enjoyed fireworks more than anyone. In the eighth year of his reign in 1477, fireworks held in the palace garden resulted in deaths of four people. Prosecutor General Lee Gye-son and others asked the king to stop the fireworks, arguing that the fireworks were only for entertainment. But the king rejected the request, claiming it was related to military affairs.

In the 21st year of King Seongjong in 1490, his vassals again suggested fireworks be stopped as they were wasteful. The king admitted that they were for entertainment but refused again by saying it is an important matter for the military and the country and to eliminate disasters and fight off evil ghosts. In his 22nd and 24th yeas, vassals proposed a ban on fireworks again, and he insisted on keeping the tradition.

Just as King Seongjong argued, fireworks are linked to exorcism and driving out diseases and misfortunes. Also, they are in line with the development of military technology and chemistry. In order to keep gunpowder manufacturing technology from leaking to Japan, officials in the coastal regions were prevented from making gunpowder in the eighth year of King Sejong. On the contrary, fireworks were a way to show off military technology internally and externally. The Annals records multiple occasions during which foreign envoys were called to attend the fireworks displays.

The World Fireworks Festival was held in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Oct. 8 for the first time in three years. Hanwha Group, the organizer of the event, showed off an especially spectacular fireworks display. Early the next morning, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea. Gunpowder can be a killing tool or a soothing art form. I hope the fireworks expel the bad luck and diseases.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)