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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 hierarchical 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.