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  • The Asian Military Revolution: From Gunpowder to the Bomb
  • Jeff E. Long
The Asian Military Revolution: From Gunpowder to the Bomb. By Peter A. Lorge. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 200 pp. $80.00 (cloth); $24.99 (paper).

The Asian Military Revolution is designed as an introductory text for undergraduate students considering the impact of gunpowder weapons upon Asian civilizations, and with it Peter Lorge largely succeeds in his goals to underscore the significance of gunpowder weapons in Asia and in his attempt to counter Western expectations that technological development fueled "modern" Asian historical development. To accomplish these objectives Lorge sets up his chapters examining the Asian military revolution with a superb introduction that presents the [End Page 323] "Military Revolution debate" among Western scholars. As he highlights the military, economic, and technological reasons given by these scholars to explain the "slow" Asian response to gunpowder weapons, Lorge proceeds to undercut these arguments by asserting that Asia had already undergone its gunpowder revolution years before the technology made its way to the West and transformed European societies. As a result, Lorge defines the "Asian Military Revolution" as a pragmatic matter of how different Asian governments following contact with Europeans or their technology chose to make use of the new and improved gunpowder weapons to expand their political control. While most Asian governments were more than willing to accept and incorporate those elements of Western military technology appropriate to their needs, Lorge argues, the political leaders of those governments did not view acceptance of the new gunpowder weapons as an acknowledgment of Western cultural superiority. As his evidence, Lorge then undertakes over the course of several chapters a study of gunpowder weapons in premodern East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian history leading to a final chapter on "modern" Asian history to support this thesis. Here is where Lorge's survey of the Asian military revolution at times suffers from its overdependence on secondary sources.

In depicting the emergence of gunpowder weaponry in early Asian history, Lorge's narrative works best when he draws upon his own research of premodern China and when there is enough secondary source information on Asian military history for him to use. Chapter 1 emphasizes the historical role that the twelfth- and thirteenth-century struggles between the Song dynasty armies, the Jurchen Jin armies, and the Mongols played in spurring innovation of gunpowder weapons like fire arrows and fire spears and ultimately the development of the bomb. Building on this historical context, Lorge layers an effective military analysis of the differences between Chinese and Western defense fortifications that led to different siege warfare strategies by the Song, the Jin, and the Mongols, which in turn increased the use of gunpowder weaponry, including bombs to overcome walled cities. Chapter 2 focuses on early Japanese history and traces the rise of the warrior during medieval Japan before shifting to the sixteenth-century Portuguese introduction of the arquebus to the Japanese and Oda Nobunaga's emphasis on infantry that contributed to the unification process finished by the Tokugawa in 1600. Lorge makes good use of recent works by Karl F. Friday, Thomas Conlan, Joeren P. Lamers, and Peter Shapinsky to describe the emergence of the Japanese warrior and to stress the predominant use of the gun, not the cannon, in Japanese warfare.

Lorge completes his study of the East Asian military revolution in [End Page 324] chapter 3, in which he employs the late sixteenth-century Hideyoshi invasions of Chosŏn Korea to scrutinize the varying uses of gunpowder weaponry on all sides in this large-scale East Asian conflict. Beginning with the Chinese military revolution Lorge emphasizes the role of naval warfare along China's rivers, in particular the Yangzi River, which contributed historically to the formation of the Ming dynasty and militarily to the creation of cast iron cannons and solid metal roundshot for use in siege warfare often conducted from ships firing upon fortified positions near rivers. Lorge argues that in the battles between Ming Chinese and Japanese troops on the Korean peninsula the deployment of these cannon was devastating for Japanese armies depending mainly on infantry firing volleys of arquebus fire. From...


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