Although largely ignorant of each other until the early sixteenth century, the history of Europe and the history of China have always run in close parallel.1 On opposite sides of the Eurasian landmass the two parts of the world have developed in remarkably similar ways. The Warring States period corresponds both in time and in character to ancient Greece; the Han dynasty resembles the Roman empire; and the Ming dynasty, ideologically dominated by NeoConfucianism, reminds us of the European Middle Ages, ideologically dominated by the Church. As the first European travellers to China discovered, China was at least as prosperous, powerful and sophisticated as their own continent and as such radically different from other parts of the world. Although the parallels seemed to have stopped when Europe in the nineteenth century suddenly surged ahead, China has been busy catching up ever since. Despite much contemporary American triumphalism the twenty-first century may yet turn out to belong to the Chinese.