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Objectives. Studies of Western settings, in general, argue that social capital, defined as a set of civic norms and social networks among ordinary citizens, nurtures democratic governance at various levels. Does such a social capital exist in a transitional society such as China? If so, what kind of role does social capital play in affecting individuals' attitudinal and behavioral orientations toward fledging grassroots self-government in that society? This study is intended to answer these questions, which are crucial for our understanding of China's sociopolitical development as well as for the application of social capital theories in non-Western societies.

Methods. This study is based on the data collected from a representative survey conducted in an urban area in China in 2004.

Results. The findings from this study indicate that social capital among urban residents was abundant, and it nurtured the grassroots self-government system through residents' attitudinal and behavioral orientations toward the system.

Conclusions. These findings have strong implications for the future of local democratic governance and applicability of social capital theories in China.