How should the United States interact with China?
Twelfth edition. February 2016.

China is on track to become a global superpower in the twenty-first century and is rapidly increasing its military strength. At the same time, the social, political, and economic forces of China’s transition create uncertainty for the country’s future. This curriculum explores the history of U.S.-China relations and prepares students to advocate different options for U.S. policy towards China in a simulation set in the U.S. Senate.


The readings prepare students to consider the complexities of U.S.-China relations. Part I surveys the history of the U.S. interactions with China. Part II explores the economic, social, and political dimensions of China’s transformation under Deng Xiaoping and the effects of those changes for Chinese people today. Part III reviews the most critical issues on the current U.S.-China policy agenda, including trade tensions, human rights, and security concerns.


The History of U.S.–China Relations Through Primary Sources

Using excerpts from three key documents, students analyze the attitudes and perceptions that have framed U.S.–China relations over the last 150 years.

Looking at China

Students analyze photographs of present-day China to learn about Chinese life and society. Students consider the benefits and limitations of using photographs as a source for learning about China.

Art and Politics: Ai Weiwei

Students assess a contemporary artist's controversial response to censorship in China. Students consider the role of artists in society and explore the use of art as political expression.

Xu Wenli and the China Democracy Party (Online)

Students explore the topic of political prisoners and watch videos of Xu Wenli, a Chinese dissident and democracy advocate. Xu describes his time in prison and the democracy movement in China.

Cross-Strait Relations

Using multiple sources—such as news articles, public opinion data, leaders' statements, and political cartoons—students examine the basics of the conflict across the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. and Chinese Perspectives

Students assess a 2015 joint speech by Presidents Obama and Xi. They evaluate language for tone to gain a better understanding of different perspectives on U.S.-China relations.

The Umbrella Movement: Protests in Hong Kong (Online)

Students analyze photographs of the 2014 protests in Hong Kong and explore symbols and messages that protesters used to express their views.

The Options Role Play

Working cooperatively, students explore four different options for U.S. foreign policy in a role-play activity.

Tracking China's Future

Armed with historical knowledge and a sense of their own values, students deliberate the options presented. They articulate coherent recommendations for U.S. policy and defend their views in a letter to a newspaper or a member of Congress.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Cohen, Warren I. America's Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). 344 pages.

Hua, Yu and Barr. Allan H. China in Ten Words (Pantheon, 2011). 240 pages.

Osnos, Evan. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). 416 pages.

Schell, Orville and Delury. John. Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century (New York, NY: Random House, 2013). 496 pages.

Shambaugh, David. China Goes Global: The Partial Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 432 pages.

Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001). 747 pages.

Steinfeld, Edward S. Playing Our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010). 280 pages.

Vogel, Ezra F. Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011). 876 pages.

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