The variations on power transition theory so widely used to frame analysis of U.S.–China relation tend to assume the inevitability or at least strong probability of China surpassing the United States in economic power if not necessarily military power. In the terminology of social psychology’s attribution theory, China is imputed with the identity of a state that is inevitably rising. The Chinese Communist Party encourages this attribution among Chinese people and foreigners. But China’s economic rise – the foundation of its comprehensive rise – appears to have entered an inflection point in the mid-2010s and may now be stalling. In critical respects, China increasingly resembles the last two countries that ‘attempted’ a globe-level rise: the unsuccessful cases of postwar Japan and the Soviet Union. China’s labor force is shrinking; the country relies excessively on unsustainable debt increases to fuel economic growth; and pollution is seriously harming public health. But even if China’s rise conclusively stalls, it may take quite some time before the Chinese public and outside observers recognize the new reality because of intrinsic biases in the cognitive logic of attributing identities to actors.