The West is different: Gunpowder proves it

Recently I was talking with a friend about how China and the west are different, how we see things differently to each other and respond to different situations because of our different experiences. She asked if I meant about things like gunpowder. Great analogy I said but a misunderstanding. Almost everyone I know, especially here in China, thinks the same thing. China invented gunpowder and used it for fireworks while the west stole the technology and used it for weapons — well, it’s not strictly true, although there is some truth in it.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica there were some weapons using this technology during the 10th century. Imagine being a soldier in an army during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, a period of great instability after the fall of the Tang and having exploding projectiles coming into the ranks, it must have been terrifying and may very well have been what led to the formation of the next dynasty, the Song.

From Encyclopedia Britannica

My reason for saying this is that there are no references to be found on the use of black powder, as gunpowder was known, during the Tang Dynasty where gunpowder was known of, but appears to have been used in fireworks and perhaps communicating signals over distances but, the Song Dynasty, which started only 50–60 years later after this period of instability is known to have used something called the fire lance or “huo qiang”. It’s impossible to prove but it’s not a difficult theory to accept that the birth of the Song Dynasty around 960AD, could have been accomplished because of the beginning of the age of gunpowder as a weapon of war. It was almost certainly inside of China and during that period where this emergence occurred.

However, what can be proven and is known, is that the first ever item we’d know as a gun using black powder as it was known then, that can be found in Chinese history, was invented by the Portuguese and brought to China in the 13th Century. And one other point worthy of note is that, despite having the availability of these weapons for several hundred years before the west, there’s absolutely no evidence that China used them outside of their own borders.

So, despite the myth, the truth is a little different. Chinese did invent gunpowder, but of course, never used the word, they had a black powder that was, and still is, named huo yao, which, very interestingly means “fire medicine” and, for several centuries, China used it for peaceful and celebratory purposes until some enterprising military leader developed a different use for it.

What’s really interesting though is that although gunpowder was used inside of China, once the technology had been acquired (or perhaps stolen?) by countries outside of China, western countries, there was only one purpose for its use for several hundred years; and that was to kill people. It was quite a while, perhaps 3 or 400 years before some enterprising engineer decided it could be used to build roads and help miners extract resources faster.

Somehow, that got me thinking more about how Chinese and Westerners view different aspects of the development of weapons.

About a month ago, I was on a farm in the Southern parts of Zhongshan and I watched a drone flying over fields dropping some chemicals onto the rice and I commented that it’s nice to see drones being used for peaceful purposes. After mentioning this in a previous video, I was accused of “parroting CCP talking points” by one viewer.

I decided to search for the word drone in google: what I saw was a variety of different drones which can be used for peaceful purposes

Then I change the search criteria and used the words US drone: the result was a very different one It seems google also parrots CCP talking points:

Everything I could now see was a military item, look carefully at the captions under the pictures and the words tell a very different story to the words in the first photo. “Kill; shoots down; war; combat;” every photo is something to do with war.

I decided to take this a little further and see what the search for robots would find. Again, it was harmless stuff, there wasn’t anything to be afraid of

Until I looked for the same thing as I did with drones, I changed the wording to add US to the start of the search:

Once again, there’s nothing on this page I’d want to see walking up the pathway towards my front door, it’s a terrifying scenario that the search for US drones or US robots fills me with fear while the search for drones or robots shows me how peacefully they can be utilised.

Extrapolating this thought experiment a little further and I looked for the word police. Finding nothing on this page that would cause me much concern so, I went to see what the US police would do for me:

Oh dear, guns, gas masks a man being murdered and generally scenes of intimidation.

Where does this all lead me?

It leads me to a conclusion, or perhaps I should say an opinion, I’ve long held, and that is that where there’s a peaceful way of doing things, or where there’s a confrontational way of doing things, it will be the west, nowadays led by the USA and previously led by colonial powers: the British; Spanish; French; Dutch and Portuguese which will take the confrontational route.

Think about how everything needs to be settled with firearms, invasions, interdictions, special operations, sanctions and legislation written in one country to slow development in another and try to think about how many times China has done any of those things in the last 70 years. I think most discerning viewers would agree — the opinion is a valid one

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Jerry Grey

I’m British born Australian living in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write mostly positively about my China experiences