For all the debate we have around here and practically everybody else especially those in policy circles about the meaning of China's rise--is it peaceful, is it developmentally beneficial for others, is it rising in such a way that it will eventually eclipse Western powers, etc--this sort of talk elides an important thing. That is, China has already had a profound influence on its neighbours for a very long time. Particularly through trade came the diffusion of several aspects of Chinese culture such as language.
A new feature from our friends over at World Policy Journal provides an example of China's enduring, multi-millennial linguistic influence in the region through the characters for "horse." It's a simple demonstration that reiterates the larger point that the Middle Kingdom's influence was once very considerable, and that it is not inconceivable that it can be again. Especially with trade flows emanating from there increasing by leaps and bounds, who's to say that those of us living near China aren't on the cusp of the PRC becoming dominant once more for better or worse?
The signs past and present, ah, point in that general direction.