Li Yiwei Essay

Submitted By zhuazi
Words: 2777
Pages: 12

In this section (weeks 5-8) we have traced the evolution of military institutions and technologies in the Non-Western world (primarily East Asia) and how they pertained to broader social and political developments. Can you discern any particular patterns in how various states responded to particular types of military challenges? Choose a particular place and time (for example, Tang dynasty China) and discuss the relationship between social and institutional developments and the use of specific military tactics and technologies.

Nathan Wells

While it has long been realized that military challenges were key to the development of Western society; the Non-Western world by comparison has often received short shrift in relation to this subject. This is best illustrated by Kenneth Chase, who begins his work Firearms: A Global History to 1700 with this query: “Why was it the Europeans who perfected firearms when it was the Chinese who invented them?” (1) The underlying message of the statement therefore is that while the region (East Asia) might produce the occasional interesting moment for military history, the real determinants for military theory were occurring elsewhere. Chase’s complete thesis is a bit more pragmatic; hinging on the observation that constant emphasis on steppe warfare led East Asian powers to neglect the increasingly important gunpowder revolution. This seems a bit heavy-handed, however and fails to address the fact that firearms and the gunpowder revolution were not always one and the same; or the fact that firearms were of limited use on the steppe until well into the nineteenth century. Yet the steppe was certainly a source of military challenge to the region, whether directly or indirectly. It might be enlightening to study how a steppe military challenge influenced the social and institutional developments of a particular East Asian culture. Ming dynasty China stands out in this regard. It was the last Chinese dynasty to predate Western influence; and in a very real sense, it was forged in the fires of steppe conflict. The Ming had overthrown the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and the worldview that arose from constant conflict with steppe peoples would reverberate in later campaigns. David Wright comments that the Ming was the only major native Chinese dynasty that did not have a powerful unified steppe empire on its northern border. (2) Conventional histories usually follow the storyline of the Ming going from expansionist empire to an opulent but lethargic bureaucracy that suffered a pyrrhic (and ultimately fatal) victory in the Sino-Japanese-Korean War of 1592-1598. To most Westerners, the Ming remains that last exotic power before the “Western Imperialists” began showing the flag; when China’s fate was determined by the Chinese. Power and wealth was synonymous with the Ming; (as it is today, with the ubiquitous “Ming Vase” apparently a member of the luxury triumvirate along with the Rolex watch and Rolls Royce touring car.) It was this wealth that inspired Japanese shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi to attempt the conquest of Ming China; thereby igniting the Sino-Japanese-Korean War. That is getting a bit too far ahead, though. Suffice it to say for the moment that the Ming could be considered the first gunpowder empire; (or at the very least the major disseminators of military technology in Asia.) (3) The Ming came to power in much the same way as most previous (and succeeding) dynasties: through warfare. Indeed, the dynasty’s cumulative years (from 1368 until about 1435) have led it to be referred to as the “Chinese conquest dynasty.” (4) This in itself did not differentiate it from other dynasties. Its predecessor, the Mongol Yuan dynasty had been an experiment of sorts. Like the contemporary Ottoman Empire, the question was whether or not a purely nomadic society could successfully operate a sedentary state on a long-term basis. In the case of the Yuan dynasty the answer was no. This was partly a social