MILITARY INNOVATION AND INTRASTATE WARFARE Portuguese artillery and sieges during the Wokou raids of the mid-sixteenth century

Barend Noordam

Geoffrey Parker’s iteration of the military revolution theory, which was mostly responsible for kickstarting and perpetuating the debate, accorded a central role to wall-smashing cannons in the context of European siege warfare. The nature and usage of this particular kind of artillery set in motion a train of technological innovations and institutional developments that would eventually lead to global European military dominance by the nineteenth century.2 Historians of China have recently contributed to this debate by applying Parker’s theory to the Chinese historical experience. Peter Lorge, for example, asserts that China had already had its military revolution in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, leading to gunpowder- based weaponry, larger and more-expensive standing armies serviced by a bureaucratized state, and siege warfare around cities with long, thick, sloped walls. All this happened without the intercession of cannons.3 Tonio Andrade, furthermore, shows that when cannons came into play during siege warfare during the early Ming dynasty, they remained relatively small and were used against enemy personnel for the most part. Chinese walls were generally already designed with such massive thickness and other features that developing heavier cannons to breach them made no sense. A second contention by Andrade is that the lack of warfare between c. 1450 and c. 1550 generally retarded the development of cannons and other military innovations in China. Lorge and Andrade seem to agree that mainly a protracted period of interstate warfare was responsible for the earlier rapid military innovation during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and that cannons played no part in it.4

According to Andrade, Chinese cannon technology started developing again when the Portuguese reached Asia in the sixteenth century and their military technology started disseminating. Foremost among these designs was the breech-loading ber(o, which was named the folangji, or “Frankish machine,” by the Chinese after the people they copied it from.3 A second weapon with a probable Portuguese pedigree that was appropriated by the Chinese was the so- called fagong, which likely referred to thefalcao bronze muzzle-loading cannon.6

The Chinese quickly appropriated Portuguese cannons, developed hybrid designs, and produced both in different sizes and weight classes. The rapid appropriation of the often-heavier Portuguese artillery pieces does raise the question what their inherent attractiveness was to the Chinese of the sixteenth century, because, according to Andrade, indigenous designs had remained lightweight and were mostly intended for the anti-personnel role. To answer this question, I turn to the reception of these weapons in Chinese military manuals of the 1550s to the 1570s - especially the role they were intended to play in siege warfare, according to these writings. This period witnessed a destructive conflict unfolding in the southeastern provinces of the empire involving the Wokou, organized bands of maritime raiders and pirates. This conflict generated a rich tradition of new military writings, which contained much information about the deployment of the Portuguese-derived weapons in the Chinese context, including siege warfare.

I rely on these writings to argue that despite the nigh-unbreachable walls in China, Portuguese ordnance was still used in a role beyond killing and injuring enemy personnel. Instead, they also targeted enemy weapons, siege equipment, and secondary fortifications in the field and on the walls. Thus, they started to replace older siege artillery, like catapults and large crossbows, although these older types did not entirely disappear.

I argue in this chapter that an incentive to develop larger and heavier cannon existed, despite the existence of the daunting walls. In relation to this, I argue that Chinese cannons did independently evolve into a heavier and larger design before the arrival of the Portuguese. Finally, I add nuance to the importance of interstate warfare for military innovation, by positing that this indigenous design probably evolved in the context of internal upheavals and that the Wokou conflict, which saw the use of the new Portuguese-style cannons, can also best be considered as an incidence of intrastate conflict.

 
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