The upstart nation was a den of intellectual piracy. One of its top officials urged his countrymen to steal and copy foreign machinery. Across the ocean, a leading industrial power tried in vain to guard its trade secrets from the brash young rival.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the rogue nation was the United States. The official endorsing thievery was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. And the main victim was Britain.
Now, the United States accuses China of the very sort of illicit practices that helped America leapfrog European rivals and emerge as an industrial giant.
"The message we are sending to China today is, Do as I say, not as I did,' " said Peter Andreas, professor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.