A question about historical precedents for China’s rise landed in my reader mailbag last week. “What,” my correspondent asked, “is the better optic for looking at China today — Bismarckian/Wilhelmine Germany, or post-Meiji Japan? Or both?” Both! Forced to choose, though, I think Imperial Germany supplies more useful indices for plotting China’s trajectory. Someone should really write something making the comparison. Like 19th-century Germany, China is a land power situated amid weaker, nervous neighbors. To compound matters, it has set out to make itself a sea power. Managing its rise without uniting a hostile coalition could demand a virtuoso performance from Chinese diplomats.