Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Frank Costigiola


The purpose of this study was to make a thorough investigation of the available sources on the Kennedy administration's foreign relations with the People's Republic of China. In carrying out this inquiry, the primary emphasis has been on attempting to make sense of the fragments and pieces of information related to the administration. Despite the fact that over twenty years have passed, there remains a vacuum in regards to a definitive statement on Kennedy's attitude towards the Chinese Communists. This study attempts to put the policy in a proper perspective.

A great deal of relevant material remains classified by the State Department and other governmental agencies. However, the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, Massachusetts proved to be a valuable resource for existing declassified material. Overall, the personal papers of members of the administration and other relevant documents emerged as the most useful information in the investigation. In addition to the Kennedy Library, declassified documents, published by Carrollton Press were also utilized and added to the study greatly. Most secondary sources were either biographies on Kennedy or superficial critiques of his administration. These sources were found at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston and at the Rockefeller Library on the campus of Brown University located in Providence, Rhode Island. Due to the nature of the secondary sources, the primary documents proved to be the essential resources for the research.

This investigation has led to certain conclusions. Kennedy's actions, in conjunction with the recommendations from members of his administration, led to a policy towards Peking that maintained the tense relations of the previous administration. There was a lack of preparation, understanding, and foresight on Keneedy's part. Instead of thinking of the future, he chose to ignore alternatives that could have bettered Sino-American relations. This was illustrated within several issues such as the Sino-Soviet split, the United Nations question, and the issue of disarmament. When Kennedy looked beyond the horizon in regards to the China policy, he failed to accept any alternatives that could create better relations.

In relation to his policy on China, Kennedy was an indecisive leader. True, Kennedy was hindered by the China Lobby and by the United States relationship with the Chinese Nationalists. However, Kennedy was too willing to use these as excuses.

It is important to keep in mind the clarity that hindsight brings to the scholar. Kennedy was dealing with an America that remembered China as an ally. However, Kennedy did nothing to change this and allowed a stagnant policy to continue.



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