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China's social transformation over the last 30 years has been among history's most dramatic ones. Economic growth has been phenomenal, an estimated 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty, and hundreds of millions of people are moving from rural to urban areas. Fundamental changes are taking place in the relationship between the state and citizens. While in the past rural citizens were seen as passive recipients of target focused top-down programmes, official development planning pronouncements in China now emphasise 'people-centered development'. Participatory approaches are playing a significant role in this transformation, and international agencies are making a big contribution. This themed issue of PLA includes case studies from the World Bank/DFID funded Poor Rural Communities' Project (PRCDP).