The Magnitude and Resilience of Trust in the Center: Evidence from Interviews with Petitioners in Beijing and a Local Survey in Rural China

Lianjiang LI*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

72 Citations (Scopus)


This article proposes two explanations for why public confidence in China's central authorities has appeared high and stable since the early 1990s. Drawing on interviews with petitioners in Beijing, it argues that trust in the Center is resilient in the sense that individuals who might be expected to lose trust often manage to retain it by redefining what constitutes the Center and what is trustworthy about it. On one hand, they remain confident by excluding authorities they find untrustworthy from the Center. On the other hand, they remain confident in the Center's commitment even when they no longer trust its capabilities. Drawing on a local survey conducted in 2011, this article suggests that global and generic measures used in national surveys may overstate the amount of public confidence in central authorities by missing two subtle variations. First, people may sound confident about central leaders in general while they only trust one or some leaders. Second, people may sound fully confident about central leaders while they only have partial trust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-36
Number of pages34
JournalModern China
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support for this study was provided by the Research Council of Hong Kong Government (CUHK2440/06H and CUHK450111) and the South China Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


  • dimensions and domains
  • magnitude and resilience
  • petitioning
  • political trust
  • trustworthiness

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