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New Perspectives on China’s Late Imperial Period

Why China Slept

Patrick Leung

The book offers new perspectives on the history of China’s late imperial period and presents a much-needed novel explanation for China’s stagnation and decline in recent centuries. It begins by questioning all the conventional wisdom on the factors behind China’s relative lack of progress and subsequent decline since the 15th century and follows with a fresh interpretation of China’s past. The new vantage points provide insights into China’s resurgence in recent decades and its significance for other nations. The book also makes projections on the general direction that China’s future evolution is likely to take with respect to its market economy, rule of law and representative institutions.

The author aims to deepen international understanding of China’s past and present which will hopefully facilitate the development of more productive relationships between China and other nations. The book is written so that it appeals to students, academics as well as the general public and whoever is interested in gaining a better understanding of China’s rapid rise today. The book is relevant to third and fourth year undergraduate courses in history, economics, international relations, law and political science. It can be used as a text book for upper class core or elective courses in history and economics and as a reference book for upper class courses in international relations, law and political science. It can also serve as a reference book for graduate students in the above disciplines.

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Chapter Nine What Happened to Chinese Firearms?


What Happened to Chinese Firearms?

This chapter serves as a lead-in to the chapter on the reasons behind the absence of a scientific and an industrial revolution in China. Military technology is an important area of technology and is often seminal to the development of other non-military technologies. As is well known, gunpowder was invented in China and the Chinese began to use firearms in warfare by the middle of the Song dynasty at the latest, almost two centuries before the Europeans.1 Yet by the beginning of the early modern period, Europeans were already making guns and cannons that were more effective than Chinese ones. Understanding the fundamental reasons for China’s slow progress in gunpowder technology during the Ming and Qing period could offer some clues to the reasons behind the relative stagnation in Chinese science and technology during the late imperial era, a topic which we will turn to in the next chapter.

The first section of this chapter presents an overview of the capabilities, effectiveness and limitations of early firearms. The second section provides a summary of the history of the development of guns and cannons in China during the past millennium and explores the reasons for their slow evolution during the Ming and Qing period. The third section briefly considers the factors contributing to the far more rapid progress of gunpowder technology in early modern Europe. The last section goes over the history of the use and “abandonment” of firearms in 16th and...

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