Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Félix E. Martín

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

John F. Clark

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Jin Zeng

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Lidu Yi

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


China, grand strategy, peaceful development, great power, status, honor, legitimacy

Date of Defense



This dissertation analyzed the internal incoherence of China’s grand strategy. To do so, it used the cultural driver of honor to explain the contradictory behavior of China, which ranges from peaceful, responsible international actor to assertive, revisionist rising power with hegemonic ambitions. The central research question asked why China often diverges from Peaceful Development, thus leading to major contradictions as well as possible misperceptions on the part of other nations. Honor was the standard of reference that was utilized and examined in order to establish congruence and coherence between deed and praxis. Accordingly, the first hypothesis of this study posited that if policy diverges from or is incongruent with China’s standard of national honor, then the grand strategy is internally incoherent. Second, two further hypotheses posited that China will tend to use peaceful means if its goal is to enhance external legitimacy, whereas it will tend to use assertive means if its goal is to enhance internal legitimacy.

This dissertation began by broadly tracing the cultural driver of honor and the link between honor and legitimacy in Chinese history. The second part of the dissertation looked at the six most salient events within a six-year timeframe (2009-2015) by way of the focused, comparative single-case-study method. For each grand strategy policy input (military strategy, economic policy, and diplomatic policy), the two most salient events were carefully chosen. A fourth grand strategy input, legitimacy (both internal and external), was evaluated for each of these events as well. Methodologically speaking, this study used process tracing in these within-case studies of the single case of China’s grand strategy.

Results showed that China’s grand strategy manifestations are by and large legitimacy-driven and that, therefore, peaceful or assertive actions may be differentiated in terms of relation to external or internal legitimacy. In sum, this dissertation advanced an innovative means of inquiry into the grand strategy of a non-Western country, contributed valuable information for the policy community, and offered results that enable a re-evaluation of the debate on the peaceful or violent rise of China.







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