This article argues for a historically aware approach in current discussions about Western diplomatic policy toward China, a field that has become dominated by the realist and culturalist approaches. The initial focus is on the diplomacy of Chinese nationalism during the Republican period, noting similarities with current Chinese diplomacy. Next is a discussion of the role of diplomatic issues in domestic factional policies. The final substantial section explores cultural and ideological underpinnings of Western as well as Chinese diplomacy, locating these in European scholarly and religious discourses about the nature of nations and their maturation. The conclusion argues for the abandonment of idealist notions about either China or the ”international community”, the rejection of paternalistic attitudes toward China; a greater awareness in international diplomacy of the importance of Chinese domestic factional relations; and for the abandonment of the imperialist lens through which Chinese policy-makers continue to see the West.