classical realism, interpretation, U.S.-China relations, national interest, power


Realism theory provides the most powerful explanation for the state of war and the rise and fall of great powers. It expounds the important concepts and themes like national sovereignty, security, survival, interests, balance of power, balance of terror, alliance, dominance, hegemony and polarity. Realism can be classified as classical realism, structural realism and neoclassical realism. In recent years, liberalism, globalism and constructivism also have greatly influenced academics and policy-makers under the new phenomena of globalization and terrorism. This paper explores how classical realism theory has been applied to and revealed in the issue of American policy towards China. The past years of U.S. relations with China have been marked by many wars and diplomatic issues that bear important messages for contemporary policy-makers. Based upon the most representative incidents in the chronicles, this paper categorizes American relations with China into three periods: period one, from commercialism in 1784 to imperialism in 1899; period two, from dominance in 1900 to confrontation in 1949; Period three, from enemies in 1950 to competitors in 2009. From a brief retrospective of major events that occurred, it is concluded that most incidents are related to national interest and power issues, while only several cases are about ideological disputes. The emergence of China as an economic power within the last few years will shape the world as much as the United States in the late 19th century. As America is the world's greatest power and China is the world's greatest emerging power, the relationship between these two countries will largely determine the history of the twenty-first century. History teaches that such power transitions are inherently fraught with dangers and opportunities. Thus, it would serve the interests of the United States to rethink its relationship with China and make its policies more global and focused on the long term. No matter what happens in China, American policy towards that country should be guided by a clear and firm sense of American national interests.


If this is your thesis or dissertation, and want to learn how to access it or for more information about readership statistics, contact us at

Graduation Date



Morales, Waltraud Q.


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences


Political Science

Degree Program

Political Science








Release Date

May 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)