As we all know, gunpowder was invented in China. Yet, we tend to associate firearms with European powers. Did the Chinese recognize the military applications of gunpowder, and if so, why did they not develop more sophisticated technology, given their historical head start?
The Chinese mostly used gunpowder to make bombs and rockets, but by the 12th century, they were making primitive guns and cannons.
They did indeed understand their military applications, and did indeed develop a very sophisticated range of weapons, from “firelances” (one-shot flame-throwers - very nasty, if more useful from psychological stand point) to rocket-propelled arrows and incendiaries, to long-range ballista-flung incendiaries, to basic land mines and booby traps, up to and even including canon. What they didn’t do is continue developing those weapons past a certain point.
The various dynasties in China needed stability to ensure ease of rule, and rampant weapons development is destabilizing. Further, once they’d established a single solid empire, they weren’t really looking to expand, save slowly. So there was no need to push for more efficacy - They could already over-awe/impress their neighbors with sheer size, and with what weapons they had on-hand. So, once weapons had reached a certain level of sophistication, enough to outstrip their local foes, there was no incentive to continue development, and strong dis-incentive to continue development.
Europe OTOH, with its fractured political structure, was full of parties actively looking to do each other dirt, and that kind of environment naturally spurs development.
Wouldn’t advances in firearm technologyt depend on matallurgy as well as on explosives? Did the Chinese make steel? Bronze would work fine for cannons, but you’d need steel for something like muskets.
The Chinese made outstanding steel, but you don’t need steel for firearms. Bronze, brass, and cast iron work quite well. In fact, in Europe, for a long time, brass canon were prized above cast iron.
Again, there’s that sociolgical barrier - why develop the ability to mass-produce steel when everything works fine as it is? Steel was reserved for weapons and other implements, like surgical intruments and the like.