How do policy makers make up their minds? What goes into their calculations when deciding whether a proposed policy or reform measure should or should not be adopted? This article looks into these important, if mundane, questions by considering the case of recent decisions taken in relation to Chinese township reforms. It argues that, in this case, policy makers were inclined to focus on costs, and neglected the potential benefits of reform due to the past reform trajectory whereby most previous township reforms have failed. Furthermore, policy makers were predisposed to perceive most stakeholders as ‘resisters’ of change or passive beneficiaries. This article contemplates the possibility of improving decision-making capacity by recognising the agency role of ‘reform targets’. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.