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

Hardcover | 2016 | $39.95 | £29.95 | ISBN: 9780691135977
448 pp. | 6 x 9 | 21 halftones. 4 line illus. 10 maps.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400874446 |
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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 answer, opening a fresh perspective on a key question of world history: why did the countries of western Europe surge to global importance starting in the 1500s while China slipped behind?

Historians have long argued that gunpowder weapons helped Europeans establish global hegemony. Yet the inhabitants of what is today China not only invented guns and bombs but also, as Andrade shows, continued to innovate in gunpowder technology through the early 1700s—much longer than previously thought. Why, then, did China become so vulnerable? Andrade argues that one significant reason is that it was out of practice fighting wars, having enjoyed nearly a century of relative peace, since 1760. Indeed, he demonstrates that China—like Europe—was a powerful military innovator, particularly during times of great warfare, such as the violent century starting after the Opium War, when the Chinese once again quickly modernized their forces. Today, China is simply returning to its old position as one of the world’s great military powers.

By showing that China’s military dynamism was deeper, longer lasting, and more quickly recovered than previously understood, The Gunpowder Age challenges long-standing explanations of the so-called Great Divergence between the West and Asia.

Tonio Andrade is professor of history at Emory University and the author of Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West (Princeton) and How Taiwan Became Chinese.


"The Gunpowder Age is a boldly argued, prodigiously researched and gracefully written work. This book has much to offer general readers, especially those with a passion for military history, as well as specialists."--Wall Street Journal

"An excellent book."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"A vigorous military history of China."--Kirkus

"In Tonio Andrade’s well-researched, balanced and comparative history of military innovation in Asia and the West, he challenges the traditional notion – compellingly set forth by Victor Davis Hanson in Carnage and Culture and Niall Ferguson in Civilization--that Western culture largely explains Western global predominance in the post-medieval world."--South China Morning Post

"This book will make certain China specialists think again. Tonio Andrade wipes out the conviction held by many . . . in the field of Chinese history that it was Confucianism that kept China from adopting military technology. . . . Andrade is not the first scholar to make such claims, but he leads us deeper in these directions than any scholar to date. The case he makes here will encourage new publications along those lines and will certainly make teaching more interesting."--Jonathan Mirsky, Times Higher Education

"In this well-constructed new book, each chapter of which reads like an approachably paced lecture, Tonio Andrade sets this entire history on a new footing."--Timothy Brook, Literary Review


"China invented gunpowder, guns, and bombs, so how did the West overtake, defeat, and humiliate the Chinese by the nineteenth century? Tackling one of history’s biggest unsolved mysteries, The Gunpowder Age is indispensable to debates in world history--and as exciting, dramatic, and engaging as a novel."--Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

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