The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

Categories: Asia | Catastrophes | History

Experts believe that the explosion at the Wangongchang plant in Beijing was the most powerful in history, not counting nuclear ones. The disaster claimed thousands of lives, maimed tens of thousands of people and brought an end to the Ming dynasty. Historians are still arguing about what caused this explosion, but due to the fact that it was in the 17th century, it is not at all easy to establish the truth.

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

The day of May 30, 1626 began as usual for the workers of the Vangunchan Armory. The plant, located in close proximity to the emperor's residence - the Forbidden City, produced a huge amount of weapons. Its workshops produced swords, spears, bows and arrows, but most importantly, cannons and gunpowder. The empire did not stop wars and the need for deadly products was very high.

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

But at 9 am a deafening roar was heard from the armory. At the same time, a giant column of fire rose into the sky, in which debris of the building, pieces of equipment and bodies of people were swirling. Residents of Beijing have never heard such powerful sounds or seen such a fire tornado.

For some time, darkness hung over the capital of the Celestial Empire, caused by tens of tons of dust and small debris hanging in the air. When the dust settled, it became clear that something completely terrible had happened. Within a radius of 2 km from the Wangongchan plant, everything was covered with burning debris, among which lay the bodies of thousands of people. The buildings standing near the armory seemed to have been blown away by the wind, and huge trees were uprooted and thrown tens of meters away.

The imperial palace, which was located nearby, also suffered. The roofs of some of its buildings were torn off, some of the walls were broken, and a stone wall fell. One of the two guardian lion statues that stood at the entrance to the residence was torn off its pedestal and thrown over the city wall. It seemed incredible, because the figure weighed about 3 tons.

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

The chronicles say that as a result of the explosion, 20 thousand people died on the spot. Tens of thousands were maimed or seriously injured. Among the victims was the only heir of the Tianqi Emperor, seven-month-old Zhu Qijun. A stone slab fell on the child and the prince died of shock.

Many courtiers and officials whose workplaces were located in the Forbidden City were affected. Industry Minister Dong Kewei, who was in charge of the ill-fated plant, suffered numerous fractures. He was never able to fully recover and soon resigned from his position.

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

It is difficult for us to imagine an explosion of such force. Its sound was heard at a distance of more than 200 km, and a column of fire and smoke was observed by residents of cities and villages separated from Beijing by 150 km. Already today, scientists have studied descriptions of the destruction and found that they could only have been caused by an impact with a power equivalent to the explosion of 20 thousand tons of TNT. The nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1946 had approximately the same destructive power.

The explosion caused enormous damage to Beijing, destroying and damaging most of the buildings. But it had more tangible consequences. The death of the emperor's only heir marked the end of the Ming Dynasty. After the death of the emperor, the throne of the Celestial Empire was taken by his brother, whose incompetent reign quickly led to the decline of the empire. This happened just 18 years after the tragedy.

Now that four centuries have passed, it is unlikely that the exact cause of the explosion will be determined. But there are several hypotheses about how the events of May 30, 1626 developed. The most common and plausible of them is careless handling of gunpowder. Hundreds of tons of this dangerous product could be stored in the armory warehouse. All it takes is a little carelessness on the part of one of the workers and it could burst into flames.

The Wangongchang Plant Explosion That Changed Chinese History

The second option speaks of a meteorite falling into the warehouse. Some sources say that there were two explosions. First one thundered, followed by a powerful one that destroyed the city. The first sound could be associated with the fall of a body of cosmic origin, after which the gunpowder exploded. Less plausible is the hypothesis that the disaster was triggered by an earthquake, which started a fire in the gunpowder warehouse. If there had been tremors, Chinese historians would have recorded it.

There are also conspiratorial versions, for example, an attack by aliens with an unknown weapon. Supporters of this option generally reject the story of gunpowder. As evidence, they cite the absence of traces of fire at the site of the tragedy, as well as on the remains and belongings of the victims. This is actually true - military experts admit that primitive black powder would not have exploded with such force, but would have produced a flash and simply burned.

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