The Gunpowder Age by Tonio Andrade

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

A book that explores China’s military experimentation with gunpowder from 900 CE to the middle of the 19th century. His thesis is that China was at times ahead of the West in gunpowder technology and even invented guns and bombs. He also goes on to give his reasons why he thinks China fell behind the West in military technology which ultimately led to the major defeat of China in both opium wars. He is convincing in his arguments, if at times a bit overzealous in his defence of China. He needs to take such strong position because the common belief in history is that China had, or has always had, a military inferior to those of the Western powers.

This book includes some lovely old illustrations from the Ming (?) dynasty drill manuals.

I would have to say Andrade is a bit biased in wanting to show how great China was before their domination by Western forces but he explores some very interesting topics.

His main topics explored in this novel:

  • gunpowder was invented in China first
  • early gunpowder weapons used more to burn troops or siege weapons
  • rifle drill was used in China even before muskets were invented. Crossbow drill was identical!
  • Why were big cannons used in Europe but not in China? Attributes it to wall design in China which was very sturdy which made it almost impossible for cannons to breach the walls.
  • China had military parity with the west for sometime before the 1800s

For people very interested in Chinese history, or military history in general, this was a great book. I highly recommend Tonio Andrade’s other excellent book, “Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West.” Lost Colony is about the Ming loyalist and pirate Koxinga and his victory over the Dutch in Taiwan.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #113 in my 2021 Reading Challenge

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