Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Chair

Dr. Joseph J. St. Marie

Committee Chair School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 2

Dr. Robert J. Pauly, Jr.

Committee Member 2 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 3

Dr. Tom Lansford

Committee Member 3 School

Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Member 4

Dr. Samuel S. Stanton


This dissertation asks: To what extent have international events changed China’s grand strategy from 1839 to 2019? To answer this research question, at the theoretical level, this dissertation develops China’s grand strategy analytical framework based on the Type III neoclassical realism model originally provided by Ripsman et al. (2016). To investigate the causal mechanism of China’s grand strategy decision–making process, this dissertation separates the unit–level factors into ideational factors (leaders’ image, strategic culture) and domestic politics factors (state–society relations, and domestic institutions). In grand strategy variables, this dissertation differentiates grand strategy means (military policy, diplomacy, economic policy, intelligence, state extraction of resources, and social mobilization), grand strategy ends (face, power, and legitimacy), and grand strategy orientations (inward–oriented, outward–oriented, idealistic–oriented, and pragmatic oriented). This dissertation uses qualitative single (within–) case studies at the empirical level by employing process tracing and concrete theory as research methods. This dissertation examines ten case studies across five epochs (five within–case study groups), including the Late Qing Dynasty (1839–1911), the Republic of China period (1911–1949), the Mao Zedong era (1949–1976), the Post–Mao–Deng era (1976–2008), and the Global China era (2008–2019). By triangulating with different data using the MAXQDA software, this dissertation finds the different effects of the international factors and domestic factors on China’s grand strategy means, ends, and orientations. This dissertation discovers several causal links of China’s grand strategies, leading to certain grand strategy orientations.

The findings indicate that Type III neoclassical realism has a better explanatory power to China’s grand strategy development, which provides more details about how unit–level factors may affect the grand strategy decision–making process. This dissertation demonstrates that each epoch shows different grand strategy patterns and that China’s grand strategy is shifting, calculus, and sometimes not coherent and contradictory. The findings also indicate that if international events cause a higher military threat, leaders’ images will become a primary factor in the decision–making process, and China will use the military as a primary grand strategy means. Chinese strategic culture has a significant influence but is not the only determinant factor to its grand strategy policies. Political institutions may be a key factor in producing a policy balance in preventing China from adopting extreme state behavior but instead choosing a pragmatic one. This dissertation concludes that unit–level factors (ideational factors in particular) function as an important filer that shapes different China’s grand strategy policy outcomes and responds to the international system.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 07, 2224