Domain Expertise

Understanding China’s Worldview

Instructor: Michael Hale

Who Is This Course For?

This is a course for anyone who wants to understand China and the origins, current shape, and probable future of its foreign policy. Whether you’re an analyst assessing China’s actions or just want to learn more about China’s increasing role on the world stage and the implications of China’s rise for East Asia, the United States, and the world, this is the course for you.

The course presents the roots and key elements of China’s worldview—the master narrative the Chinese use to make sense of the world and their place in it—and examines how this perspective has shaped the evolution of China’s foreign policy. By the end of this class, you will appreciate the Chinese perspective and be able to employ this understanding as a framework for explaining and predicting China’s actions and reactions in the international environment.

Explore the Links Between China’s History and Its Current Efforts to Shape the Future

We’ll cover, albeit lightly, over two millennia of Chinese history and tie it to the developments we’re seeing from China today under Xi Jinping’s leadership, from Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea to its more aggressive foreign policy and its increasingly strained relationship with the United States. We’ll accomplish this key objective by focusing on three broad themes:

China Is the Best

We’ll uncover the roots of China’s sense of superiority, embedded in its historical role as the center of East Asian civilization.

Old Wounds Run Deep

We’ll examine how that worldview was fundamentally shaken during what the Chinese call the “Century of Humiliation” and look at how the power of humiliation shaped and still motivates China’s behavior.


The Power of Propaganda

We’ll scrutinize how the Communist Party of China has used these twin narratives of greatness and victimization as it reasserts China’s role on the world stage.

What You'll Get

Video Content


Course Transcript


Downloadable Extras


What You'll Learn

In this course, you’ll learn:

  • The various ways that China uses its past to define what it is today
  • The roots of the Middle Kingdom’s historical greatest and its influence on China’s sense of self
  • How China has long selectively mixed elements of Confucianism and Legalism in shaping and selling its domestic and foreign policies
  • How Western domination damaged the collective Chinese psyche and influences current Chinese views of the West
  • How the trauma of World War II and Japanese occupation shaped China
  • The role the struggle between the Nationalists and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) played in creating modern China
  • How the CCP and its interests have dominated all aspects of Chinese policy since 1949
  • The evolution of Chinese foreign policy from Mao to Deng to the current Xi Jinping era
  • The goals and methods of China’s current Great Power Diplomacy under Xi and its implications for Chinese domestic and international actions
  • The risks a more aggressive China poses to Beijing, the region, and the world

Course Content


The Foundations of China’s Sense of Superiority

The Century of Humiliation

  • Early Encounters With the West
  • The Humiliations
  • Chaos, Civil War, and Invasion
  • The Chinese Communist Party Wins the Day

A Brief History of Chinese Foreign Policy

  • The Mao Years
  • The Deng Years

Great Power Diplomacy: The Xi Jinping Era

  • Xi Jinping’s Ascendance
  • The South China Sea
  • The Belt and Road and Made in China Initiatives
  • Exerting Control Abroad


  • Tip Sheet
  • Course Evaluation

Meet Your Instructor

Michael Hale

Michael spent 25 years as an East Asian political and security analyst at the CIA, during which he built close professional relationships with key policy officials, Intelligence Community officers, and the think tank community. He briefed and advised several US Presidents and traveled frequently to East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Region to brief heads of state and other senior foreign partners. Michael spent four tours overseas, served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, and was selected as a member of the CIA’s Senior Analytic Service. He retired from government service in 2018.

Michael is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and speaks some Japanese and French. He lives in Leesburg, Virginia with his wife of 30 years and is a father of five adult children–including a son adopted from China–and two grandchildren. Michael also served a two-year church mission in Taichung, Taiwan. He holds a BA from the University of Utah in History and Chinese (1991) and an MA from the David M. Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University in Asian Studies (1992).  In his spare time, Michael enjoys community theater, travel, training for triathlons, and chopping wood.

Michael Hale

Try a sample lecture

The Opium Wars and the Century of Humiliation

This lecture is part of the JTG Proficiency1 course Understanding China’s Worldview by Michael Hale.