Review: Waley-Cohen “China and Western Technology in 18th Century”

World history article review: Waley-Cohen, Joanna, “China and Western technology in the late eighteenth century,” American historical review 98 (December, 1993):1525-1544.



Joanna Waley-Cohen is a Chinese history professor at New York University where she has been involved in academic research work including china’s modern history for example the Qing dynasty which comprises of study of china and the west, Chinese culture and china warfare advancement. She was born in 1952 and has been teaching since 1992[1]. This paper seeks to review one of Joanna’s articles concerning China and the west titled, “China and Western Technology in the Late Eighteenth Century” by summarizing the article including the method used by the author to write and research this analysis. In addition, the paper will look at the philosophy that crossed to china and diffused into Chinese culture from America.

The article, “China and Western Techology in the Late Eighteenth Century” was written to address Chinese unwillingness and inability to improve their invention world such as gunpowder and other discoveries. “We have never valued ignenious article, nor do we have the slightest need of your country’s manufactures,” this was the most famous quote that Chinese people held on to from 1790s which showed their lack of interest in development.

The Machu Qing dynasty had dominated china and ruled over it using military means for example they had prohibited privatizing of weapons and jealously guarded all information especially that concerning technology, therefore, preventing any influence in advancement in technology from other countries in China[2]. Precisely, the Chinese under its rulers had refused to surrender its autonomy to other countries; they had isolated themselves and remained hostile.

During the late 16th century there was a shift in China called Sino- West interaction that resulted into entry of missionaries in China resulting to establishment of the Jesuit catholic missionaries which diffused into Chinese culture. The establishment of missionaries in China and the interaction greatly impacted Western influence in China in terms of technological advancement in late 18th century making China to be one of the most influential countries on the planet[3]. Furthermore, Chinese military technology was not well advanced but when the missionaries from the West started their work in China they influenced the ambitions of the Chinese military and helped them to advance in their science and technology which impressed Emperor Qianlong and the Chinese people resulting into development of their interest in western technology. For instance, in 1849 influential scholars in China such as Dai Zhen, Qian Daxin and Ruan Yuan recognized the significance of the western scientific technology. They set out to incorporate the western science to study mathematics and astronomy in China. Additionally, they decided to use the same knowledge in advancing the indigenous Chinese technology.

The work of people from the West like Felix da Rocha greatly impacted the Chinese culture especially military shift by designing weapons that were used to advance the technology. For instance they created xiguapao which were guns that looked like watermelon with bulbous shape. The work of the western elites in china was also met with resistance from the 18th century Chinese elites who felt that the west might interfere with Chinese home politics for their own interest[4]. As it was referred to as the age of enlightenment in China by many Chinese having acquired knowledge and ability to read because the Jesuit from west had translated books for them, they embraced the western knowledge more with more interest in military advancement and technology development such as food production and factory establishment.

In conclusion, China technological advancement in 18th century was because of the western philosophy, “It was because of the influence of the western elites that made china to discover its potential in terms of technology and military warfare advancement.”  In addition, the western elites view the Chinese as primitive. “In the Age of progress such an attitude led automatically to the assumption that Chinese were inferior beings”[5].”In the late 18th Century, well before the western incursion brought a new immediacy to the need for military reform, the Chinese were extremely interested in technological advances and in what the west had to offer.”



Harrison, Henrietta. “The Qianlong Emperor’s Letter to George III and the Early-Twentieth-Century Origins of Ideas about Traditional China’s Foreign RelationsThe Qianlong Emperor’s Letter to George III.” The American Historical Review 122, no. 3 (2017): 680-701.

Huters, Theodore. Bringing the World Home: Appropriating the West in Late Qing and Early Republican China. University of Hawai’i/Hawai ‘i Press, 2017.

Waley-Cohen, Joanna,”China and Western Technology in the Late Eighteenth Century,” American Historical Review 98(December, 1993):1525-1544.

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