Herd sentiment among pundits and others who analyze the direction of Chinese affairs has always been subject to sudden shifts. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, China was mostly a neat geopolitical story in the West: Mao Zedong had died, and what perished with him was China’s long-standing focus on autarky and decades of overt opposition to the capitalist world order. Western leaders and media cheered on the rise of the smiling and friendly-seeming Deng Xiaoping. Though they were hopeful about China’s economic growth, few expected the country to rapidly emerge as an economic competitor of the first order.
In the 1990s, this began to change in a remarkably brief period of time. By the early 2000s, China increasingly came to be viewed as an unstoppable economic juggernaut.