Political trust in rural China

Lianjiang LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

351 Citations (Scopus)


This article shows that while some Chinese villagers see the state as monolithic, more believe that there are substantial differences between the central and local governments. Among those who perceive a divided state, most appear to have more trust in higher levels than in lower levels and distinguish between the intent and the capacity of the central government ("the Center"). They trust that the Center's intent is beneficent but distrust its capacity to ensure faithful implementation of its policies. The article concludes that the central state has some breathing space because dissatisfaction with lower levels does not immediately generate demands for fundamental political reforms; in addition, the combination of trust in the Center's intent and distrust in its capacity may encourage villagers to defy local officials in the name of the Center. If villagers' rightful resistance fails, total disillusionment with the Center may set in, resulting in cynicism or radicalism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-258
Number of pages31
JournalModern China
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

For generous financial support, I would like to thank the Asia Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Baptist University. I would also like to acknowledge a grant from the Research and Writing Initiative of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I am grateful to Keith Markus, Jason Newsom, and Edward Rigdon for advice on methodology. For helpful comments on earlier drafts, I thank Joseph Fewsmith, Xiaoguang Kang, Elizabeth Perry, Tianjian Shi, Alvin So, Patricia Thornton, Yongnian Zheng, David Zweig, three anonymous referees, and especially Kevin O’Brien.


  • Peasant
  • Political trust
  • Protest


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