The rise of China has important implications for the regional order in East Asia. Such implications are not limited to material calculations, such as the size of China’s economy and its military expenditure, but also include an ideational dimension. This article examines the rise of China from the perspective of the recent development of Chinese international relations (IR) theory. Rather than being a purely academic pursuit of theoretical pluralism in the discipline, the development of IR theory in China is also a political practice seeking to address the important problem of China’s rise; that is, the threat perception of a rising power informed by rationalist IR theory. Drawing upon traditional Chinese political thought, Chinese IR scholars have engaged to debate the possibility of a benevolent power within a hierarchical international order, similar to Asia’s historic tribute system. Nevertheless, such a proposal faces limitations, at both the theoretical and practical levels, that cast doubt on the efficacy of (re)creating Asia’s future in the image of its past.