Augustus the Strong, the 18th-century king of Saxony and Poland, is an unlikely but fitting metaphor for a rising China. Fitting because Augustus was as weak as he was strong. A bear of a man, he is said to have fathered 356 children, commanded large standing armies and ruled his dominions with uncompromising resolve. But his weaknesses, like those of China, grew out of his strengths. The passion he felt for his lands and his women sprang from a devotion to beauty, and that devotion also sired a sickness that Augustus called his ‘maladie de la porcelain’. He was bewitched by Chinese ‘blue and white’. The objects of his desire all had to be imported from China at enormous cost; porcelain in those days cost almost as much as gold, and Augustus even sold soldiers to neighbouring potentates to finance his frailty.