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The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  15 reviews
The Chinese invented gunpowder and began exploring its military uses as early as the 900s, four centuries before the technology passed to the West. But by the early 1800s, China had fallen so far behind the West in gunpowder warfare that it was easily defeated by Britain in the Opium War of 1839–42. What happened? In The Gunpowder Age, Tonio Andrade offers a compelling new ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 26th 2016 by Princeton University Press
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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 ·  86 ratings  ·  15 reviews

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Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china, history, nonfiction, war
This is a volume which addresses some persistent historical cliches. First, that the Chinese did not use gunpowder in warfare before European contact; and second, that it was Confucianism which brought about the string of military defeats of the 19th century.

For the first point, Andrade finds archival sources on the experimentation and use of gunpowder, with the earliest bombs and small cannon used in the 12th and 13th century.

The second part is a longer story. Andrade looks back to
Charles J
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
"The Gunpowder Age" succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Gamers, history buffs and possibly fantasy writers
Recommended to James by: Jim
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Why is it that academic military histories are much more readable than their non-military counterparts? Maybe they expect a broader audience? This was a great read on the evolution of gunpowder warfare, much of which covers China's contributions to the art, which hasn't been tackled by the English speaking military writing community until recently. Many of the earlier weapons are bizarre, early powder mixes were more of a fire tool and not really explosive. The later developments are covered as ...more
It's lovely to see such broad incorporation of sources, including extensive Chinese-language research, tied to a tight, focused argument. Tonio Andrade tackles previous historical narratives of divergence and comparative weakness centered on the Qing empire, positing a general parity if not superiority of East Asian gunpowder weapons and tactics over European equivalents until a 'great military divergence' beginning in the mid-18th century. He roots this divergence in a variety of factors but le ...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Andrade demonstrates quite convincingly that China's successive empires had the central financing, logistics, trade routes, drill, artillery-resistant walls and bureaucracy to absorb and use gunpowder effectively, and that there was a crucial period of parity with the west (which was drastically overhauling its systems to do so). The Divergence happened in the 1830s at the tail end of a long period of peace in a Chinese hegemonic east Asia, when despite significant and effective attempts to scal ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Guns, and ships, and so the balance shifts." This is an exciting book that has given me several new insights and fun factoids (human overbites are fairly recent due to eating utensils) and provides an interesting case for the "challenge-response" or "Warring states" explanation of military development, especially concerning gun powder weapons. Though a few arguments were not clearly formulated, this is a really good book. Andrade's writing style is also excellent, making his book a joy to read. ...more
Vikas Erraballi
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Revisionist history of military/technological progress in China that turns over many of the common tropes (“Confucianism hindered progress” etc.). Makes the argument 19th c. was a short period of transition and generally hues to Napoleon’s adage on the sleeping giant. At times, the evidence it presents seem light compared to the conclusions one might draw, but still useful as a way to wash away the old tropes.
Mike Hankins
The argument for this book isn't exactly new, but it is more about refining and/or correcting some previously well-known concepts. Andrade here is trying to get more specific in answering the question about the "divergence" between Europe and China somewhere in the mid-to-late 19th century. This is one of the central questions in the whole field of World History, and the literature is understandeably crowded. Andrade focuses his argument though, almost entirely to the military sphere. He's basic ...more
Henry Escobar
Jun 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I had to read this for a class on War. I did learn a lot about Chinese history and also the history of weapons throughout the ages and with emphasis on China's evolution of the gun and other weapons. I recommend this to people who are interested in the subject matter of gunpowder weapons and military tactics in general. This book is definitely not for a broad audience so buyer beware. Andrade likes to be contrarian on conventional wisdom on the topics at hand only because he cites various works ...more
TG Lin
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
「五百年 vs 五千年」?不,只有「三百年」。



作者認為,直到乾隆朝的中期——作者大略定義的年份是 1
Andrew Tollemache
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting exploration and revisionist take on how even though the CHinese invented gunpowder, guns and their in war, by the 18th and 19th century the Chinese had fallen far behind the Europeans in firearm technology and use in war.
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first part of the book detailing the rise of gunpowder in China is an absolutely crucial part of the global history of gunpowder warfare, despite being until now almost wholly neglected. Just for that part alone I believe Andrade's Gunpowder Age deserves a 5 star review. What starts to drag this monograph down once it reaches the middle segment is Andrade's constant remarks on the technological prowess of China when the facts do not bear the claim. Andrade's argument for the entire book once ...more
Adil Ehsan
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A fascinating look at why China 'fell behind' even though it was a leading pioneer of Gunpowder use in warfare. The book is well written and highly engaging with a clear sense of purpose and narrative which pulls you in while helping you learn. I don't know much about Gunpowder warfare and found myself easily able to follow the evidence and arguments put forward as the book does a great job of explaining it all. All in all a great read that helps also set the context for how China may view its c ...more
Dec 28, 2015 marked it as to-read
Reviewed by Asian Review of Books
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, warfare, history
Thorough, well written and arguments made in the book are well supported. As much a treatise on geo-politics as it is on scientific and military developments.
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“As a Persian scholar wrote, around 1115, “The people of China are the most skilfull of men in handicrafts. No other nation approaches them in this. The people of Rum (the Eastern Roman Empire) are highly proficient (in technology) too, but they do not reach the standards of the Chinese. The latter say that all men are blind in craftsmanship, except the men of Rum, who however are one-eyed, that is, they know only half the business.” 0 likes
“to a historian specializing in the non-European world there is something puzzling about the excitement with which European historians hail the arrival of cities, trade, regular taxation, standing armies, legal codes, bureaucracies, absolutist kings and other commonplace appurtenances of civilized societies, as if they were unique and self evident stepping stones to modernity:” 0 likes
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