(Quartz) China is preparing to surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy, in purchasing power parity terms. Already its economy is 80% the size of ours, and if current growth rate differentials persist, it will take China only about four more years to surpass us. At market exchange rates, China’s GDP is smaller, and is expected to remain less than ours until 2028. This is hardly surprising. After all, China has four times as many people as the US; if every Chinese worker were to earn the US minimum wage, its GDP would be larger than ours. That is not a very high bar. With that economic size comes military power and global cultural clout.

China’s awe-inspiring rise is often framed as the return to a historical norm. A common belief is that for most of the last 5,000 years, China was the world’s center of wealth, culture, technology, and power. The 19th and 20th centuries, we are told, were a brief aberration, and China is now simply retaking its rightful place as the world’s preeminent nation. This trope gives China a certain air of inevitability.

The problem is, it’s not really accurate.

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