Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

"Red China" and the "Yellow Peril": How Ideology Divides Americans over China

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

"Red China" and the "Yellow Peril": How Ideology Divides Americans over China

Article excerpt

Based on a 2011 national survey, I argue that while US conservatives feel somewhat cooler toward the East Asian democracies than US liberals do, they feel much cooler toward China. Greater average conservative than liberal prejudice lingers, cooling attitudes toward the "Yellow Peril" of all Asian countries, but communism is a larger source of ideological differences over China. For cultural, social, economic, and political reasons, conservatives feel substantially cooler than liberals toward both communist countries in general and "Red China" in particular. I conclude by suggesting that with gerrymandering and ongoing ideological sorting, these ideological differences over China on Main Street may come to play a greater role in the making of US China policy. Keywords: ideology, liberal, conservative, US-China relations, "Red China," "Yellow Peril," communism, libertarianism, social dominance


US POLITICAL ELITES IN BOTH PARTIES ARE INTERNALLY DIVIDED OVER China. On the left, some Democrats argue for a pro-China policy of engagement to better integrate China into the global economic, political, and security orders. Other Democratic elites, concerned about Chinese human rights abuses, advocate for tougher China policies. "The plight of the people of Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world," Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proclaimed on March 12, 2008. "The United States must be prepared to confront the Chinese government when they violate the human rights of their people." Yet other Democrats on Capitol Hill, many representing heavily blue-collar districts, join Big Labor in condemning unfair Chinese trade practices and advocating tougher US trade policies toward China.

Republican elites are equally divided on China policy. Business conservatives have historically promoted a friendlier China policy conducive to increased trade, investment, and profits. For instance, the US-China Business Council and AmCham China, which lobby on behalf of US companies doing business with China, have worked closely with many probusiness Republicans on Capitol Hill to support pro-China and block anti-China legislation. Military hawks and Christian conservatives, however, usually argue for tougher China policies. Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia serves on the House Armed Services Committee and cochairs its China Caucus, frequently promoting tougher positions on China. New Jersey Congressman Christopher Smith, who has held dozens of hearings to deplore China's lack of religious freedoms, has also advocated a tougher US China policy, but for very different reasons. "China's continued repression of religion is among the most despotic in the world," Smith (2006), a Christian conservative who founded the House Pro-Life Caucus, argues. "Today, numerous underground Roman Catholic priests and bishops and Protestant pastors languish in the infamous concentration camps of China for simply proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Democratic and Republican Party elites thus appear internally divided over China. Are Main Street Americans similarly conflicted, so that there are no overall liberal-conservative differences over China among the US public at large?

The predominant argument among US political scientists and pollsters today is that neither partisanship nor ideology shapes US public opinion toward China--or any other country (see Gries 2014). In their Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China, Benjamin Page and Tao Xie (2010, 37, 57, 66, 103) specifically and repeatedly claim, based upon their reading of existing survey data, that ideology has "little impact" on the attitudes of the American public toward China (for a critique, see Gries 2011). This argument is consistent with Page's earlier claims that partisanship and ideology do not shape the international attitudes of the American people in general (Page with Bouton 2006, 95-96), or their attitudes toward Asia in particular (Page, Rabinovich, and Tully 2008, 45, 47). …

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