For his part, Trump has struck a bellicose tone against Asia's largest economy, accusing China of harming the U.S. through unfair trade and currency practices.
"We can't continue to allow China to rape our country — and that's what they're doing — it's the greatest theft in the history of the world," Trump said in May.
Trump has vowed to take the fight to China by levying high tariffs on its goods, but many in Beijing aren't certain he'd be a bad thing for their country.
"Donald Trump is a puzzlement" to Chinese officials, Lieberthal said. "They don't like his proclamations about what he would do in terms of tariffs on Chinese goods, and that he'd go after China on economic and trade issues. But having said that, I don't think there are many who think he can follow through on what he's talking about, or even if he knows what he's talking about."
While Chinese leaders may have a general sense of Clinton's worldview and whose advice she takes, they're largely in the dark about Trump's personal preferences, Lieberthal explained.
And Trump has his fans in China: It's well-publicized that Chinese internet groups spring up during the primary season, including "Donald Trump Super Fans Club" and "God Emperor Trump." One such account on micro-blogging site Weibo, the name of which translated to "Trump Global Fans Club," alternates between extolling his foreign policy and praising the physical attributes of his daughter.
But some of that online admiration was likely at least partially ironic.
"Chinese regard Trump as a clown, funny and unscrupulous," Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, wrote in a brief op-ed in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times.
Still, there's a population within China that is actively rooting for Trump because they think he'll best serve their country's interests, according to Glaser, who cited four aspects of the candidate's history and rhetoric that lead them to that conclusion.
- Trump has criticized U.S. alliances with Japan and Korea, suggesting that those countries should be paying for their own defense. If either of those cooperative arrangements is weakened, the argument goes, China may be able to greater assert itself in the region's geopolitics — not to mention the benefits of its local rivals suddenly forced to spend more on defense.
- Under Obama, the U.S. has spent more time and money exerting influence in Asia, and many in China have come to see that focus as a threat to their own rising power. In contrast, Trump focuses his rhetoric on the Islamic State and terrorism, leading some in Beijing to conclude he may scale back Obama's pivot to Asia so he can divert assets to the Middle East.
- Some in China believe that Trump, who made his name as a businessman before branching out into reality television and politics, would approach foreign policy in a "transactional" manner, according to Glaser. That idea appeals to many in China, she said, because it means everything is up for negotiation — there are no ideological red lines.
- Finally, most Chinese expect Clinton to regularly bring up human rights concerns with China, but they "think they'd get a pass" on those issues under Trump. "Who has heard Donald Trump say anything about human rights?" Glaser asked.
A poll in May found that more than 60 percent of mainland and overseas Chinese say they support Trump, while only about 8 percent voiced their preference for Clinton.
Chinese citizens seem to "prefer Trump to Clinton. This is understandable as the latter has criticized China a number of times over the cyber security, human rights and so forth," Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, wrote in the Global Times. "Trump, on the other hand, is a mystery to Chinese. Although he has expressed dissatisfaction with the current U.S.-China policies, he looks forward to strengthening ties with China as well."