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Charney, Michael W. (2024) 'Firearms and Maritime Gunpowder States of Asia.' In: Roy, Kaushik and Charney, Michael W., (eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Global History of Warfare. London: Routledge.

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Gunpowder weapons would have a significant effect on Asian warfare. Changes in their application in warfare manifested themselves in different ways depending upon local climate, geography, and the density of the population. However, the same kind of military revolution experienced in Western Europe, including the evolution of new and more efficient state institutions to support large, firearm-bearing standing armies, was absent or much more lightly felt throughout maritime Asia. One of the main reasons for this different outcome was perhaps that Europe ‘got their first’ and so was more advanced technologically by the time the European armed forces turned on the Asian states, particularly in the nineteenth century. However, another factor was the way in which Asian states attempted to hold the development of firearm technology back out of the combined belief that they no longer needed better firearms to keep their military edge and the fear that the states or the societies they commanded were more vulnerable to disruption from threats posed by the uncontrolled circulation of firearms. Some Asian states as a result isolated possession of firearms to small hereditary groups tightly aligned with the throne, but with little or slow technological improvements over time or, as in Japan, imposed a very extensive ban on firearms altogether. Although many of the kingdoms of maritime Asia might constitute proto-gunpowder states they by no means achieved the state development in response to gunpowder weapons experienced in Western Europe. They often possessed huge arsenals of rotting, centuries’ old muskets and rusted cannon and piles of miscellaneous shot and even when they tried to update their holdings in the early nineteenth century, they were sourced old examples abandoned by the Western armies. More serious was the lack of development in strategy and tactics and marksmanship. Here the less intense interstate competition left a more deadly stamp. As a weapon that might be used as a political symbol or to frighten domestic rebels, firearms had by the nineteenth century become mainly a weapon for show than a weapon to use against serious military threats.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
ISBN: 9781138345386
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2023 17:09

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