In the 17th and 18th centuries, a tremendous vogue for things Chinese existed across Europe. From tea, silk and porcelain imports to artistic influences on Chippendale furniture and English, French and Dutch garden design, and Chinese-themed plays and philosophical enthusiasm for Confucius and civil service meritocracy, chinoiserie enjoyed a lengthy Enlightenment-era flowering. By the end of the 18th century, however, led by revolutionary events in France, the ideals of Voltaire gave way to the actions of Robespierre, and Enlightenment attitudes hardened into new, post-Napoleonic geopolitical realities. In tandem, many former admirers of China began to regard their erstwhile object of adoration with new, more questioning eyes. Within decades, the chinoiserie craze had largely evaporated, as uncritical admiration for the Middle Kingdom was gradually succeeded by more realistic assessments of China and the country’s place in the world. Flint-eyed Western merchants, armed with a lifetime of hard-won China experience, were listened to ever more closely in the corridors of power; and much like today, European politicians and statesmen did not like what they heard. North American attitudes were similar. Jaded viewpoints inexorably soured into open hostility and – eventually – a series of armed conflicts that saw China on the losing side. By the late 1830s, Chinese ethnocentrism, supercilious arrogance and condescension towards foreigners had reached such levels that even formerly tolerant observers felt – with some reluctance – that the country got what was coming to it, and had brought a fair amount of its downfall upon itself. What caused well over a century of fulsome admiration and desire for emulation of China to curdle into suspicion and dislike? As ever, fault lay on both sides; to lay the blame firmly on “the West” for its “century of humiliation” – as much modern Chinese historiography insists – conveniently misses the wider picture. Deliberately inflated racial nationalism and anti-foreign sentiment, combined with a regularly re-stoked sense of historical grievance, offers potent distractions from steadily brewing troubles at home. Passive aggression, zero-sum thinking, “lost-face-hurt-feelings-how-dare-you …” responses to reasonable criticism, simmering spites and profoundly petty, self-destructive desires for revenge, extraordinarily long-term perspectives, and unbelievably short-range actions – the familiar list of anti-China charges trudges on, with weary historical precedent. A Cycle of Cathay: The Chinese Vogue in England During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1951), by American scholar William W. Appleton, cogently explains the unfolding causes of this disenchantment, and offers timely comparative explanations from an earlier epoch, when enthusiasm for China morphed into international dislike, suspicion and hostility. Contemporary echoes exist; the ever-looming spectre of another “Tiananmen incident” was wilfully ignored throughout the 1990s, and a new China fad emerged. Driven by seemingly unstoppable, breakneck growth and the manifold opportunities that this rapidly burgeoning economic miracle offered, the new chinoiserie embraced a widespread craze for retro-style Shanghai chic, global enthusiasm for Mandarin lessons peaked and there was a general sense among those in the West that China was the place of the future for (at least) the rest of their own lifetimes. Anyone with an ounce of sense and forethought, converts to China’s inexorable rise endlessly proclaimed, should race to be part of it. To come to know a place and its people well does not mean that one must love either unconditionally. The more comprehensive one’s knowledge, the more genuine and bitter the disillusionment when eventually – and for many, inevitably – the gilt comes off the gingerbread. Few more venomous enemies exist than a disillusioned former lover, and so it is with many once-ardent Sinophiles today, in their own personal relationships with the former object of their affections. Eventually – as before – national attitudes harden, provocations become more acute, the optics of antagonism become the point, rather than a side effect of other factors, and finally a significant groundswell of public opinion in the West seeks to “teach China a lesson …” with predictable, tragic international consequences.