The world is finally awakening to challenges that have been building in China for years. That means it’s open season among the commentariat on the country and its economy. Languishing growth has produced a slew of unflattering comparisons both with the U.S. and with the China that was — the juggernaut that attracted as much envy as unease.

But as China slips into deflation, one word is popping up more and more to describe the gloomy atmospherics: "Japanification." The surface similarities with Japan of the early 1990s are there: a rickety real estate sector, a fast-aging population and trade tensions with the U.S. in a scrap for global dominance.

For a generation, you could take one big idea about global economics to fashionable salons and not be laughed out of the room: China’s ascent was inevitable and the product of the country’s unique qualities. Japan’s mismanagement of problems made it a cautionary tale to be avoided. There’s now a pile-on the other way. It’s too easy to assert that China is now headed down the same path as prices retreat and demand wilts.