ABSTRACT

In 2003, Kenneth Chase published Firearms: A Global History to 1700, a compact, well-written book that offered an elegant solution to an age-old question: why did Europeans “perfect” firearms when it was the Chinese who invented them? 1 Rejecting standard explanations (e.g. Europeans had superior technology or experienced higher levels of warfare), Chase focused instead on military context, arguing that China failed to perfect firearms because its primary foes were mounted nomads: early firearms were so slow to load and inaccurate that they couldn’t be used effectively on horseback, whereas infantry forces armed with guns had trouble defeating nomads because the logistics were too difficult. Therefore, states that faced nomadic threats tended to focus on cavalry warfare, and their cavalry units ended up being armed much like the nomads themselves, that is, with traditional weapons, most importantly bows. Thus, Chase concludes, the Chinese had less incentive to improve their firearms than did western Europeans, whose wars tended to involve infantry forces.