Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Melvin Small


This dissertation aims to find out what role(s) the media in the United States and China played in their historic rapprochement from 1963 to 1972. In order to examine how they covered the major events that affected Sino-American relations, I select seven elite U.S. media and two Chinese official newspapers to study. These media include: the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, CBS, ABC, NBC, People's Daily, and Reference News,

The study is based on the assumption that media, instead of reporting the information "objectively," have the ability to affect the content they deliver and set the agenda for public discussions. Therefore, I examine how the media in both countries dealt with the events in terms of selectivity, placement, images, and opinions.

The dissertation argues that the U.S. media did make independent contributions to the thaw in relations and that the Chinese media were much more sophisticated than most people think. As important participants in Sino-American relations, U.S. media criticized Washington's rigid China policy in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, American journalists functioned as representatives of the people whom Beijing tried to befriend. The Chinese media were not merely propaganda tools for political indoctrination. Through them, Beijing took calculated steps to prepare the Chinese people at different levels of the political hierarchy for the reconciliation with its former "number-one enemy." Media in both countries, despite their differences in freedom of action and operation mechanisms, played important roles as a "diplomatic signaling system" and in educating their respective publics for the change in relations.

This study is important because it enriches the study of Sino-American rapprochement through the lenses of the media, an understudied but vital institution that reflected and influenced the two publics' perception of the relations. It not only readdresses the issue of government-media relationship in the United States, but also maps out the development of Beijing's approach to the United States without relying on its highly classified state documents. Essentially, it reveals the "agency" of the U.S. media and the nuances in the "propaganda state" of China.