The term itself was used in a speech given by the former Vice Principal of the Central Party School, Zheng Bijian, in late 2003 during the Boao Forum for Asia It was then reiterated by PRC premier Wen Jiabao in an ASEAN meeting as well as during his visit to the United States. It appears to be one of the first initiatives by the fourth generation of the leadership of the PRC, headed by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.
In Zheng's speech he pointed out that in the past, a rise of a new power often resulted in drastic changes to global political structures, and even war (i.e. the hegemonic stability theory in international relations). He believed that this was because these powers "chose the road of aggression and expansion, which will ultimately fail." Zheng stated that in today's new world, the PRC should instead develop peaceably, and in turn help to maintain a peaceful international environment.
However, the term proved controversial among the Chinese leadership, in part because some officials thought use of the word 'rise' could fuel perceptions that China is a threat to the established order. At the 2004 session of the Boao Forum, Hu Jintao, Chinese president, used instead the phrase China's peaceful development (). 'Peaceful development' has since been the definition generally used by senior officials, with 'peaceful rise' rarely heard.
The doctrine emphasizes the importance of soft power and is based in part on the premise that good relations with its neighbors will enhance rather than diminish the comprehensive national power of the PRC. Part of this doctrine is that the PRC will avoid neo-mercantilism and protectionism.