Political Trust in Rural China
31 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2008
Date Written: July, 10 2008
Using interviews and survey data from four counties, this paper examines Chinese villagers' trust in the state. It shows that while some villagers seem to see a monolithic state that is either trustworthy or untrustworthy, more believe that there are substantial differences between higher and lower levels of the state. For the majority of respondents, trust in "higher levels" and trust in "lower levels" are distinct. Among those who perceive a divided state, most appear to assume that higher levels, particularly the Center, are more trustworthy than lower levels. Interviews indicate that villagers who have more trust in "higher levels" than in "lower levels" appear to distinguish between the Center's intent and its capacity. They trust that the Center's intent is beneficent, but distrust the Center's capacity to make local officials enforce its mass-regarding policies. These two patterns of trust have important implications. First, that many villagers believe that higher levels are more trustworthy than lower levels implies that the central state has some breathing space because dissatisfaction with lower levels does not immediately generate demands for fundamental political reforms. Second, 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, disillusionment with the intent of the Center may set in, resulting in either cynicism or radicalism.
Keywords: political trust, petition, popular contention, rightful resistance
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