Understanding the multilevel foundation of social trust in rural China: evidence from the China General Social Survey

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Objective. In recent years, there has been a fast-growing body of literature on the sources of social trust. However, empirical studies focusing on non-Western societies are rare. To fill the gap, this study is intended to explore both the individual and contextual sources of social trust in rural China. Methods. This study uses hierar-chical linear models to analyze the multilevel foundations of social trust based upon a unique two-level data set from the China General Social Survey (CGSS) conducted nationwide at both the individual and village level in rural China. Results. The results indicate that Chinese villagers markedly differentiate between the particularized and generalized forms of trust. While particularized trust is strongly influenced by both personal experiences and subjective orientations, generalized trust is closely associated with one’s basic values (i.e., norms of civility). Moreover, both types of trust are very unevenly distributed in rural China, and geographically dispersed villages tend to strongly constrain the development of social trust. Conclusion. Given the complex nature of social trust, these results suggest that more sophisticated studies should be introduced to map how its forms and magnitudes vary across localities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-597
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • social trust
  • China
  • social exchange theory

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