Foreign Minister Wang Yi hit back at Japan's prime minister over a claim that current tensions in East Asia are akin to those between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, Wang said he believed the analogy employed by Shinzo Abe was misplaced.
"It strikes me that his statement is a bit anachronistic because the current era is a world apart from the situation of 100 years ago," Wang said.
"The forces for peace in the world, and they include China, are growing."
Wang said a more relevant history lesson would involve recalling Japan's record of military aggression against China and other Asian states. "Reviewing these episodes of history would clearly show who was the instigator of war and the troublemaker," the foreign minister said.
Wang said Beijing regarded Abe's December visit to the Yasukuni war shrine as the biggest problem in the bilateral relationship, describing it as a memorial that glorifies militarism and justifies past aggressions.
"When a Japanese leader lays a wreath at such a shrine, he crosses a line - he is breaching the conscience of humanity and international justice. He is contesting the outcome of the second world war and the international order that emerged from it.
"The Class A war criminals of Japan were like the Nazis. Could you imagine a European leader could today lay a wreath at a memorial to Nazi war criminals? Would the European people accept such a move? No. And it would be illegal besides."
Analysts say it is in China's interests to keep the issue simmering because it has a bearing on how the rest of the world sees territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbours.
"China had no choice but to react to the Japanese move," Wang said. "We have offered negotiations but the Japanese refuse to discuss the [Diayou/Senkaku] islands because, in their view, they are not in dispute.
"Let me again make the offer: We should begin to have a bilateral negotiation over the islands to establish a crisis management mechanism."