I would say that the possibility of China's rise was a certainty known to Chinese, but not the actuality. I mean look at all the 润人. But more importantly, the fall of the Qing tells us that nothing is guaranteed. Societies must continuously evolve and improve, or fall behind. And falling behind too much is dangerous, as we've seen. Chinese cannot rely on the mercy of outsiders, as that has been tried and failed.The problem with the American discourse is their lack of a historical perspective. They have literally only experienced a rise, and have no idea what a fall looks like.
Sure they may think they know, from studying the fall of the Roman empire, but when it happened to another culture, there are always plenty of ways to rationalize away the signs.
In contrast, the darkest period of recent Chinese history is still within living memory. The fall of the Qing dynasty is still fresh among the nation's collective consciousness. In addition, we have centuries of dynastic cycles to guide us with signs of rise and decline. Even when I was but a child, a mere 10 years after the end of the most destructive period in PRC history, my mother was telling me with no uncertainty that the 21st century would belong to the Chinese people. China's rise came as a surprise to the rest of the world, but not to the Chinese themselves. We knew it as certainly as we knew the sun would rise the next day.