Rereading it now, more of the book's flaws are apparent to me. It's striking that, apart from Judge Fang and his assistants (and Lord Finkle-McGraw, who has of course made himself a subject of Queen Victoria II), most of the characters are non-Asians encountering Chinese culture as foreigners; the myths encountered and dealt with by Nell are almost all identifiably white people's myths; and the interrogation of conformity vs individualism gets rather close to being Asia vs USA. I now know that it is possible to immerse us in other cultures' futures without othering the culture (Ian McDonald is good at this) and I was rather uncomfortable at places in The Diamond Age when reading it this time round.
However, I've also now read all but one of the other books that were on that year's Hugo shortlist. Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships is a typical Baxter book, of great vision (and of course an authorised sequel to one of the seminal works of the genre) yet somehow impersonal. David Brin's Brightness Reef is about at the point where the Uplift series was visibly running out of steam. Robert J. Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment, which inexplicably won the Nebula, is poor. I haven't read Connie Willis' Remake but I've heard or read nothing to suggest that this omission is a blight upon my life. So, basically, the Hugo voters got it right.