Journal Article

Consistency and Change in American Perceptions of China

Matthew S. Hirshberg
Political Behavior
Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 247-263
Published by: Springer
Page Count: 17
Were these topics helpful?

Select the topics that are inaccurate.

  • Download ($43.95)
  • Save
  • Cite this Item
Consistency and Change in American Perceptions of China
Preview not available


The cold war dominated American perceptions of the People's Republic of China during the 1950s and 1960s, and opinions of China were correspondingly negative. Improved Sino-American relations, accompanied by domestic reforms in China, led to a gradual improvement in American attitudes toward China during the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1980s, Americans held positive perceptions of China and its relations with the United States, but continued to view the People's Republic as communist and undemocratic. This sort of inconsistency is characteristic of periods of cognitive transition: some established perceptions are slower to change than others, and this results in structural imbalance. The Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989 interrupted this transitional process and sent perceptions of China shooting back toward balanced, cold war stereotypes. The massacre set the Chinese government in a clear symbolic struggle against freedom and democracy. This rekindled latent cold war images of China and elicited disapproving rhetoric from American leaders. The result was a quick reversion to negative perceptions of China, structured by a lingering cold war schema. These processes are demonstrated through the presentation of a study that explores the cognitive structure of perceptions of China both before and after the massacre.