Modern capitalism is most often understood as a European development beginning in the late eighteenth century, followed by a global spread accelerating after World War II. Less consensus exists on the reasons for this spread and on how recent episodes of economic development are similar to or differ from those that occurred in European history. Few have pondered the possible relevance of the ideologies and institutions of political economies in different world regions before the modern era and how the spread of modern capitalism has shaped their contemporary approaches to the future. This article sketches Chinese comparisons with and connections to patterns initially European in origin. It highlights the economic challenges of climate change, in particular comparing Chinese and European water policy reforms. The proposed payoff of this exercise is an additional perspective from which to ponder capitalism's future and what may emerge in its stead.