China and the development of firearms

Discussion in 'Military History' started by solarz, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. solarz
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    solarz Brigadier

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    The Chinese invented gunpowder, and had been using it in military applications for hundreds of years before the Europeans ever heard about it. However, China never developed the kind of firearms that made Europe dominate the world by the end of 19th century.

    Why do you think China continued to rely to cold weapons instead of refining their existing firearms? After all, they had rudimentary flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and Cannons were available as early as the Song dynasty. Why did the Chinese military evolved so little from the Tang dynasty to the Qing?
     
  2. rhino123
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    rhino123 Pencil Pusher
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    The black powder are discovered by ancient Taoist priests in their search for longivity when developing pills and elixer for immortality, needless to say, the black powder would be shrouded in secrecy and much legends and so common folks actually doesn't feel related to it.

    Plus for millenius China is the world most advance country, all her neighbours are more or less barbarians to the Chinese and their current weapons are enough to deters these barbarians to attack the cities, thus there simply is no need for any new weaponries.

    However as China grew weaker and her neighbouring countries became stronger, we began to see the developement of the firearm in earnest from Song dynasty onward. But even then weapons are always being rated as secondary as was the culture of the Chinese, who favour scholars more than militarists (except maybe in the Han Wudi era).

    My opinions.
     
  3. nemo
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    nemo Junior Member

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    What make you think Chinese didn't use firearms? Ming dynasty certainly did use substantial amount. Ming China's invasion of Vietnam near the beginning of the dynasty used a substantial amount of fire arms. Near the end of the dynasty, Chinese intervention of Japanese invasion of Korea involves substantial firearms, including field artillery -- so much so Japanese feared to face Chinese on open battlefield.

    The reason Chinese firearm was eclipsed is because of the Manchurians of the Qing dynasty, which forbid the development of firearms to preserve their monopoly in power.
     
  4. rhino123
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    rhino123 Pencil Pusher
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    Whoever say anything about chinese not using firearms? You need to read the former posts more carefully. Both myself and the one before me, never state anything on Chinese not using firearms.

    And as history had it, many of the firearms are actually invented by the Chinese, if they don't use firearms, why in the world they invented it. It is just that the Chinese did not use as much as we would have believe and many of their technology simply stop because the Chinese didn't further improvise in what their ancestors had began.

    This had mainly to do with their culture and also in their position being the strongest nation at that time. There simply is no need for firearms (not that much anyway) and because they are already stronger than their opposition.
     
  5. solarz
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    solarz Brigadier

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    Define "substantial amount". Did the military tactic involve artillery barrages followed by musket ranks? Or was it still mainly concentrated on cavalry charges, infantry spearmen and archers?

    Your Qing idea doesn't hold water. Every dynasty, from Han forward, is obsessed with centralizing power. Ming emperors faced many peasant revolts even before its decline. Yet, according to your previous statement, the Ming were quite adept with firearms.

    I disagree with this explanation. The Song dynasty was nowhere near being the strongest kid on the block. The most prosperous, yes, the strongest, no. Ming empire faced threats and challenges on several fronts: the Yuan in the North, and the Japanese pirates along the eastern coast.

    If military challenges were the defining motivator, China had plenty of motivation to develop better firearms throughout the centuries.

    Strangely enough, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing did put a lot of emphasis on building cannons, yet this was for some reason abandoned later on. Further, the Chinese never seemed to have envisioned firearms as a primary personal weapon (i.e. rifles and pistols).
     
  6. nemo
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    nemo Junior Member

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    Ming prefers artillery rather than musket because musket does not outperforms traditional crossbow and archery -- crossbow was the standard infantry equipment. Compare to matchlock musket at the time, crossbow is a better weapon because it has higher rate of fire and is more accurate. Ming artillery contains a substantial portion of breech loader -- which increase the rate of fire.

    Han outnumber Manchurians in the order of 100 to 1 -- the only advantage Manchurians has is cavalry and archery. Firearms took away that advantage. Manchurian also face Ming's firearm, and it does not want to face that again. Since firearm requires less skill to use effectively than archery, this make rebellions less of a threat if firearms are not available. Note also the crossbows, which has been the main Chinese weapon from Warring States period to Ming are gone as well.

    Manchurians also regards martial skills as birthright and are chauvinistic about archery, so they deliberately de-emphasis firearm.

    The main military problem China faces was it is deficient in cavalry -- lack of horses, while the barbarians can pretty much mount their whole troops. So the main military emphasis is anti-cavalry. Since firearms of the period is not accurate, it is of limited use. Against infantry, breech loading artillery works as well if not better, compare to muskets -- so classical musket tactics didn't get developed. However, this was no great loss, as crossbows was already doing the same job.

    Against Japanese pirates, Chinese developed a weapons team tactics -- patrol ground armed with long arms, blades, and firearm. In this case, the range is short enough for firearm to be effective -- long arms and melee weapon protect the firearm while it loads and shoot.

    Kangxi builds cannon because he was faced with a rebellion and need seige weapons. After the rebellion is suppressed, Manchurians went happily back to cavalry.

    Essentially the Ming developed firearms because it was mainly an infantry army. Manchurian Qing does not like firearms because it has a cavalry army and firearms are not easy to use on horseback.
     
    #6 nemo, Mar 8, 2010
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2010
  7. solarz
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    solarz Brigadier

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    First of all, you're claiming that Ming used firearms extensively, or at least significantly more than Qing. You need to provide some source to back that claim up.

    Secondly, the idea that firearms were not further developed because it was less effective than traditional weapons at first, is problematic. Europeans faced the same issue when firearms first appeared. Longbow archers and crossbows were also more effective than firearms. Nevertheless, firearms continued to improve in the West, while it did not in China.

    Third, the Qing dynasty ruled China not because of their martial prowess, but because of Kangxi and Qianlong's benevolence. The Qing army also relied heavily on infantry. China didn't turn into Genghis Khan when the Qing dynasty rose. Finally, you seem to be claiming that the Manchu rulers consciously made the decision to forbid firearms, when in reality, I don't think any of them, Ming or Qing, ever thought about developing effective rifles to replace archers.
     
  8. ZTZ99
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    The key is that China did not face any significant challenges from a technological near-peer and so solutions that involved refining their highest tech weapons to compete against an enemy with similar weapons did not have a chance to arise. In other words, there was no country close to China that required it to engage them in an arms race. That is not to say China's weapons technology did not advance at all. It simply did not advance as fast as Europe's did.

    Medieval Europe was a completely different story from China. A bunch of small to medium sized countries packed in close together, all similar in technology, any one of which could gain a disportionate advantage over their neighbors with the smallest advance in weapons technology, and any advance easily and quickly transmitted to neighbors, made for an arms race that saw Europe as a whole rise to world dominance over the next several hundred years. And it wasn't limited to military technology. This type of intra-European competition and communication bore fruit in many areas: music, art, science.

    Without a strong drive to innovate, people and nations easily stagnate. That is what happened to Ming and Qing China.
     
  9. rhino123
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    rhino123 Pencil Pusher
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    The main thing about why the Chinese do not actually refine the firearm was mainly because there isn't a need to. That is because as what ZTZ99 had put it, there is no country near to China that require the Chinese to utilise the firearm (and her subsequent refinement). They have and used the firearms, and at that time, it was already the most technologically advanced weapon and so there really is no need to modify the weapons.

    Plus, the Chinese (except Han Wudi era, and the warring state era), never actually pride military over normal scholarly clans. This is clear for Tang, Song, Ming and eventually Qing period. It might be because of fear of the military rising too much in power to threaten the emperor and overtake the entire dynasty, please note that most, if not all dynasties of China ended in violent revoke or revolution, which would of course involve the military. It make sense for the emperor to remove and defavour the military as much as possible and control it as much as possible to prevent the same thing to happen to him and his dynasty as it had happen to the previous dynasty.

    Thus the developement of weapon is actually pretty slow.

    In summary, there are a couple of thing that could have cause the Chinese to forego further developement of firearms:

    1) Really no nearby threat or unforeseenable threats from others.
    2) Already very advance, if not the most advance weaponries as compare to other nations nearby
    3) favouring scholarly clans and disfavouring the military
     
  10. xywdx
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    Traditional weapons were effective against all of Ming's enemies when combined with limited firearm support, they saw no need to improve.
    The relationship between bows/crossbows and firearms is like the relationship between Battle Ships and Carriers, one does not see the need to change to the later unless under certain stress.

    Qing took control through use of force, what they did after was necessary to ensure their rule as a minority population.
    Qing saw a danger in the propagation of firearms, which would put the Manchu rule at risk since most of their tribal warriors valued traditional martial prowess.
    Had Qing allowed the propagation they would likely have met the same fate as Japan's Tokugawa house, which also favoured traditional martial prowess but was defeated by a smaller modernized force.
    In other words Qing's decision likely lengthened their own rule, but at the cost of the hundred years of humiliation due to the backwardness of the military.
     
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