International relations (IR) has seen a proliferation of recent research on both international hierarchies as such and on historical IR in (often hierarchical) East Asia. This article takes stock of insights from East Asian hierarchies for the study of international hierarchy as such. I argue for and defend an explanatory approach emphasizing repertoires or toolkits of hierarchical super- and subordination. Historical hierarchies surrounding China took multiple dynastic forms. I emphasise two dimensions of variation. First, hierarchy-building occurs in dialogue between cores and peripheries. Variation in these relationships proliferated multiple arrangements for hierarchical influence and rule. Second, Sinocentric hierarchies varied widely over time, in ways that suggest learning. Successive Chinese dynasties both emulated the successes and avoided the pitfalls of the past, adapting their ideologies and strategies for rule to varying circumstances by recombining past political repertoires to build new ones. Taken together, these phenomena suggest new lines of inquiry for research on hierarchies in IR.