THE GUNPOWDER AGE by Tonio Andrade


China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History
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A vigorous military history of China, linking technological changes to political events over time.

There is a push and pull in trade and innovation. As Andrade (History/Emory Univ.; Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory over the West, 2011, etc.) notes, Chinese gunpowder inspired the development of a range of Western arms that then returned to China, only to be further developed there and radiated outward—far from the static model found in many histories, which hold that China copied but did not innovate, fearful of violating Confucian values of stability and hierarchy. It was Confucian scholars, Andrade writes, who “studied gunpowder weapons, tested them, experimented with their manufacture, developed tactics and strategies for deploying them, and wrote about all of this in detail.” Stimuli for development came from trade and contact with far-flung nations, including Japan and Vietnam, as well as the European powers that came calling. The weakness of the Chinese state when those powers divided China in the 19th century has been attributed to a long period of resource-wasting internal wars, but Andrade holds that conflict was but one cause among many, including ethnic tensions and poor governance. Moreover, warfare has proven a spur for innovation and political concentration, yielding dynasties and such tools as the “thunderclap bomb.” In initial contact with Europeans, the Chinese were outgunned, but they adjusted, incorporating Western-style arms against the invading Portuguese, for instance. The Sino-Portuguese wars, writes the author, “mark a watershed in military history, inaugurating a period of deep military innovation in China.” Today, Andrade writes, China is similarly innovative, and the pattern of history suggests that its long period of consolidation may herald a time of “huge wars of expansion.” If this signals a “new warring states period,” then the world may be condemned to live in interesting times indeed.

Accessible and of interest to students of international relations but mostly intended for military historians and Asia specialists.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-691-13597-7
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2015


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