Kenneth M. Swope is a Professor in the Department of History at Southern Mississippi University, Hattiesburg, USA.
Tonio Andradeis a Professor in the Department of History at Emory University, Atlanta, USA.
The invasion of Korea by Japanese troops in May of 1592 was no ordinary military expedition: it was one of the decisive events in Asian history and the most tragic for the Korean peninsula until the mid-twentieth century. Japanese overlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi envisioned conquering Korea, Ming China, and eventually all of Asia; but Korea’s appeal to China’s Emperor Wanli for assistance triggered a six-year war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers and encompassing the whole region. For Japan, the war was “a dragon’s head followed by a serpent’s tail”: an impressive beginning with no real ending.
Kenneth M. Swope has undertaken the first full-length scholarly study in English of this important conflict. Drawing on Korean, Japanese, and especially Chinese sources, he corrects the Japan-centered perspective of previous accounts and depicts Wanli not as the self-indulgent ruler of received interpretations but rather one actively engaged in military affairs—and concerned especially with rescuing China’s client state of Korea. He puts the Ming in a more vigorous light, detailing Chinese siege warfare, the development and deployment of innovative military technologies, and the naval battles that marked the climax of the war. He also explains the war’s repercussions outside the military sphere—particularly the dynamics of intraregional diplomacy within the shadow of the Chinese tributary system.
What Swope calls the First Great East Asian War marked both the emergence of Japan’s desire to extend its sphere of influence to the Chinese mainland and a military revival of China’s commitment to defending its interests in Northeast Asia. Swope’s account offers new insight not only into the history of warfare in Asia but also into a conflict that reverberates in international relations to this day.
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.