American Policy Discourses on China: Two Centuries of National Imagination and Constructed Reality
College of Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)
Martin Scott Catino
China, United States, discourse, American diplomatic history, American discourses, foreign policy
History | Political Science
Bennett, Yan Chang, "American Policy Discourses on China: Two Centuries of National Imagination and Constructed Reality" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 4040.
In the 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS), the United States government has declared that the world is at an inflection point in which there are tremendous challenges that the American people face with regard to their collective continuing security and prosperity. One of those challenges that the Biden administration has identified is the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which, according to the NSS, “harbors the intention and increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global field to its benefit.” As the administration believes, The PRC threatens the U.S.-led rules-based world order that has maintained sustained peace, stability, and prosperity for more than seventy-five years. Current attitudes and discourse on China mirror the vitriolic discourse of Senator Joseph McCarthy and others in the Republican Party during the 1950s, but this has not always been the case. For centuries, as this project will unveil, the United States has held China in very special regard and considered China to be an ancient, timeless, vast, and powerful country, yet one that also required redemption and paternalism. These centuries-old attitudes and beliefs bely a typical diplomatic relationship between two nations of equal status, or even a patron-client relationship. As this dissertation will show, these attitudes and beliefs—taken together as discourse—come from what Americans believe about themselves rather than from what they believe about China. These discursive formations on China have largely informed and directed American policy toward China since the time of America’s founding. In order to understand how American discourses on China have emerged, this project utilizes analysis from Michel Foucault, Edward Said, and historicist contextualism that help to reveal the many layers of American perceptions that have shaped US foreign policy on China. This framework of discourse is called the episteme, which has to a great degree constructed American understandings of China and therefore has influenced the formation of foreign policy. Consequently, this dissertation is a dialogical examination of US-China relations within the nexus of language, power, and authority, allowing critical reflexivity on policy formation on China. To understand current discursive policy formations on China, this dissertation first builds a genealogy of American discourse through Foucault’s archeological methodology and Said’s Orientalist examination of attitudes and beliefs which has contained and framed China since the American founding. Historical contextualism shows how the illocutionary and perlocutionary effects of words have been utilized in policy toward China. This dissertation differentiates from previous schools of thought on China by dispelling the idea that diplomatic history is merely political narrative propelled by events and personalities. Instead, this dissertation examines discourse as informed by Foucault and Said’s interpretive processes, which uncover enduring discursive forces which have fashioned the US-China relationship. As will be shown, these long nineteenth century discursive formations had a great impact on policy, most tellingly during the Nixon, Carter, and Clinton administrations. Within each of these key presidential periods, changes occurred that fundamentally shifted the nature of the relationship and trajectory of China within the world order. It is through examination of dominant discourses—and their inherent contradictions and fallacies—that we may be able to better understand how to craft future China policy.
Available for download on Tuesday, December 19, 2023