UCSC seminar––part 8

The eighth set of readings is Tonio Andrade's The Gunpowder Age, which encompasses a fairly large literature on history of science, technology, warfare, state formation and competition. Andrade asks a poignant question: How did Europe conquer the world? Industrial revolution and capitalism alone could not explain Europe's military conquest and colonial power around the world. Steamships could go far and fast around the globe, but the cannons equipped on the steamships were the main advantage for them to defeat Chinese navies. How did this great divergence of military technology take place?

Andrade's part 3, dubbed the age of parity, describes several battles between Dutch and Zhengs in Taiwan on the one hand and the Manchu-Korean coalition against the Cossacks on the other. I think this is the best part of the book and the most important contribution he makes to the field. He explains in convincing details why Europe's military technology advanced while the Ming dynasty enjoyed its peace and lagged behind in terms of firearm technology and fortress construction. However, the gap was neither large nor significant. Ming dynasty elites were able to enlist missionary assistance and translate technical documents into classical Chinese. More importantly, the Chinese and Manchu elites could modify what they learned from Europeans and put the newly acquired technology into use throughout the seventeenth century.

I think Andrade's part 4 is the weakest link of his book. The rise of Western military power throughout the eighteenth century was well known. The British empire was able to colonize many parts of the world and defeated the Qing dynasty with ease in the nineteenth century. If you're interested, you should consult Marc Matera for the updated survey on the field of history of the British empire. The Chinese story in the nineteenth century, on the other hand, is sparse and requires more in-depth research. It reflects the current state of the field rather than Andrade's analysis. As both Philip Kuhn and Susan Mann called for before they retired, we should direct our resources and energy to study nineteenth-century China. I could not agree more.

Comments

  1. I appreciated the readability and accessibility of Andrade’s work; The Gunpowder Age is bound to appeal to both academic and casual audiences. In particular, I enjoyed his playful ‘set up, then shut down’ approach to challenge prominent historical paradigms. For example, Andrade pulls the reader into believing that the Chinese failed to innovate their firearm technology because they most often battled with cavalries, only to swiftly debunk that belief. Although I admittedly grew impatient with Andrade’s somewhat repetitious writing style—feeling that he was holding my hand far too much throughout this work—I still commend him for providing his readers with the foundation necessary to approaching firearm history with higher sophistication. While Andrade himself could have pushed beyond comparative analysis toward the “truly global military history” (Andrade 12) he desires, The Gunpowder Age is a large step in the right direction.

    The Gunpowder Age raises an intriguing point: it was not the higher quantity of conflicts in Europe that facilitated its ‘lead’ in warfare technology, but rather the life-or-death crisis underlying most European wars. I appreciate Andrade’s injection of qualitative, descriptive analysis into that paradigm. However, placing this into conversation with Wai-yee Li’s Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature raises questions for me. Was the Manchurian victory over the Ming not a matter of life-or-death for those involved? Did the legacies of previous brutal conflicts such as the An Lushan Rebellion and Mongolian conquest not haunt Chinese elite? Yes, China and its political institutions ‘survived’ those conflicts, but at the cost of millions and millions of lives. What does that say of historical memory in war? Further, I would be intrigued with a humanistic flip of script in debates about war and modernity—Europe did not have more war, but rather Asia had more peace.

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  2. Professor Hu, It's interesting that you think chapter 4 is the weakest section. I found it to be the most interesting, in particular chapter 18, where Andrade discusses China's defeat at the hands of Japan. (Though, this may be betraying my own biases because I have read accounts of this by Japanese historians.) I wonder what you think about Andrade's argument that China's defeat is due to a lack of "focus?"

    I think Andrade's dismissal of "Confuscianism, culture and conservatism" (273) as the root problems of China's slow modernization is very convincing, though I am more skeptical about the argument that China's defeat to Japan was merely a political problem. Andrade seems to be arguing that though the technology of China had caught up to Japan by the time of the war and the military machines and ships were superior to Japanese, the war was poorly fought on the Chinese side and largely disorganized. I am willingly to be convinced but I think I would need to read more accounts of Chinese disorganization. Appraisals of Chinese military by Europeans seem like they may be suffering from the same kind of racism during WW2; Japanese technology was acknowledged but the British troops in Singapore were comforted because 'Japanese are night-blind,' and and lack a sense of balance due to malfunctions of the inner ear, etc.

    However, Andrade's argument that Chinese resources were divided between traditional and modern armies is more convincing. He argues that China was unable to adequately arm its navy, despite having better technology. I think it may be fruitful to discuss the differences between technological capacity (the ability to create state-of-the-art ships, for example) and implementation (the ability to overhaul the entire naval) because the two are conflated in Andrade's argument.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Professor Hu, It's interesting that you think chapter 4 is the weakest section. I found it to be the most interesting, in particular chapter 18, where Andrade discusses China's defeat at the hands of Japan. (Though, this may be betraying my own biases because I have read accounts of this by Japanese historians.) I wonder what you think about Andrade's argument that China's defeat is due to a lack of "focus?"

    I think Andrade's dismissal of "Confuscianism, culture and conservatism" (273) as the root problems of China's slow modernization is very convincing, though I am more skeptical about the argument that China's defeat to Japan was merely a political problem. Andrade seems to be arguing that though the technology of China had caught up to Japan by the time of the war and the military machines and ships were superior to Japanese, the war was poorly fought on the Chinese side and largely disorganized. I am willingly to be convinced but I think I would need to read more accounts of Chinese disorganization. Appraisals of Chinese military by Europeans seem like they may be suffering from the same kind of racism as during WW2; while the strength of Japanese technology was acknowledged, British troops in Singapore were comforted because 'Japanese are night-blind,' and lack a sense of balance due to malfunctions of the inner ear, etc.

    However, Andrade's argument that Chinese resources were divided between traditional and modern armies is more convincing. He argues that China was unable to adequately arm its navy, despite having better technology. I think it may be fruitful to discuss the differences between technological capacity (the ability to create state-of-the-art ships, for example) and implementation (the ability to overhaul the entire naval) because the two are sometimes conflated in Andrade's argument.

    ReplyDelete

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