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Given the Chinese putatively invented gun powder, why did they not become the 'superpower' of today?

I understand that China became an isolationist country after Zhang He died. But, given how feudally disposed China was internally, how is it they never managed to refine their inventions to me more militarily effective?

After centuries of fighting with themselves, the Mongols and the like, one would have thought the Chinese would surely have been the first to utilise gun powder the way Anglo-Saxons did. How is it we 'barbarians' took their (?) invention and, through innovation, became the more technologically advanced race? Where on this path of technological evolution did China grind to a seeming halt and why?

It just seems incongruous to me that, having already dabbled with gun powder based, projectile weapons themselves, that they wouldn't have gone the next few steps.

Topics: gun powder
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Closing Statement from Sablcious Faux

So, after the responses and some research, I've come to the conclusion that it was RELIGION that was probably the single, most influencing factor in China not capitalising on all its inventions, colonising the world and this conversation not being typed in Mandarin characters. I should have know- if something undefined hamstrings human development, Occam's Razor dictates it will likely be, or have something to do with. religion!

See here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBCosTVR-qA#t=21m37s - for a précis of why this is. Incidentally, it took a documentary produced nigh on 40 years ago for me to find an answer as definitive as this.

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  • Jul 29 2013: At first this seems correct. But the dubious progress that the western nations made in exploration of the world and the use of gunpowder is due to different way the two cultures looked at the world. Firstly, in China rockets and the like which used gunpowder were more ceremonial in nature and so no one thought of them in a different way. Secondly China had fought wars, both internally to some degree and with the Mongols but they continued to exist as a single country relatively safe by itself on its own and in its borders. Europe on the other hand was a continent made up of feuding nations and principalities which also shared a wide extent of ocean. The development of improved ship building and navigation allowed the exploration of new "worlds". These worlds, e.g. north America, south America, Africa etc then became the new centres around which the European powers fought over by pure exploitation of the resources to be found there. The Chinese also launched exploratory missions in the 15th century with several fleets of ships. They made many discoveries but these discoveries, e.g. discovering the west coat of America, were not supported by the Chinese government who chose to isolate themselves, maybe in an attempt to remain pure instead of possible intermixing with other societies. I would say it was mainly a cultural attitude which made the difference plus the constant pressure that European states experienced which made the difference.

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