Are you afraid of China?
The question rang loud in the room, hanging in the Beijing air like the daily smog.
I was at a forum there earlier last month to discuss Singapore-China relations with Chinese academics and officials. To be fair, the question wasn't asked in an intimidating way. But it was enough that it was asked. I couldn't think of any country in which such a question could be raised in as direct and forthright a manner.
Welcome to the new China.
In Beijing, you cannot but be impressed with a city so eager to show how far it has progressed since the Middle Kingdom succumbed to the might of the Western powers.
The gleaming skyscrapers competing to be the tallest, the shiniest, the most angular, the one with the largest hole in the middle, they proudly proclaim an ambition to be among the most advanced metropolises in the world.
But China's size is such that when it grows, it moves the earth and everything else in its wake.
So there is now growing concern in the region over an assertive superpower in the making that is flexing its muscles in its territorial disputes with four South-east Asian countries and, more ominously, Japan.
How will a rising China affect our lives in the years to come? What sort of accommodation will the people and countries in the neighbourhood have to make as China's influence grows? Will its competition with the United States for pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific lead to stability or conflict? These questions and more are being asked as the world grapples with the irresistible rise of the soon-to-be-largest economy in the world.
In Beijing, I tried to find some answers.