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Chinese Choices: A Poliheuristic Analysis of Foreign Policy Crises, 1950–1996


  • Author's note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA), Montreal, Canada, March 17–20, 2004. We thank Alex Mintz, Marijke Breuning, Mark Schaeffer, Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. We also are grateful to Kevin G. Cai, Xiaoting Li, Yitan Li, Shali Luo, and Xi Zhou for their generous help with the coding.


This paper uses the Poliheuristic Theory (PH), developed by Mintz, which incorporates both psychological and rational choice components in a synthesis of these previously isolated approaches, to explain decision making in Chinese foreign policy crises. China is an interesting initial case for this project for two reasons. One is its importance as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and rising superpower. The other is China's reputation as a nearly unique “black box”—an especially challenging case—with regard to decision making in foreign policy crises. Taken from the authoritative compilation of the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, the nine cases (with available data) in which China is a crisis actor span the period from 1950 to 1996. A comparative analysis of Chinese decision making in times of crisis is used to test hypotheses derived from the PH. The hypotheses focus on how decisions are anticipated to occur over two stages. Principal expectations are that the non compensatory rule, which places priority on political considerations, will determine viable alternatives at the first stage, while choices more in line with expected value maximization or lexicographic ordering will characterize the second stage.