Recent research suggests that cultural differences in Chinese and Western modes of conceptual reasoning play a significant role in political discourse and relations between the United States and China. In contrast, our analysis of the discourse surrounding the 2001 collision of an American surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet over international waters reveals a surprisingly high degree of similarity in conceptual metaphors used across the two cultures. Using tools from cognitive linguistics and cognitive science, we compare U.S. and Chinese conceptual metaphors used to frame the incident over a 13-day period, ultimately distinguishing between shared metaphorical conceptualizations (War, Journey, and Economic) and competing metaphorical conceptualizations (Game, Technical Fix, Victim, and Civil Relations). Our analysis allows us to make empirically grounded claims about Chinese–American relations that avoid cultural stereotypes and suggest possibilities for further integration of interpretive and scientific approaches for understanding intercultural discourse.

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