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Trust among people in China dipped to a record low with less than half of respondents to a recent survey feeling that "most people can be trusted" while only about 30 percent trusted strangers.
The Blue Book of Social Mentality, the latest annual report on the social mentality of China, analyzed respondents' trust toward different people and organizations and drew a conclusion that trust in society is poor. The trust level was 59.7 points out of a full mark of 100 points.
In 2010, the trust level was 62.9 points.
The study, conducted by the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was based on a survey that asked more than 1,900 randomly selected residents in seven cities including Beijing and Shanghai about their opinions on trust.
The latest poll also found that in China, family members are viewed as the most trustworthy, followed by close friends and acquaintances.
It showed that around 30 percent of the people polled trusted strangers on the street and about 24 percent trusted strangers online.
Ma Jinxin, 27, of Beijing, said he learned about the difficulty of building trust with a stranger at a railway station.
Ma said he had returned to Beijing after a business trip and needed to call a friend but his cell phone was dead. He asked a man at the station if he could borrow his phone, but "the guy refused and asked me to look for a public phone", Ma said.
"I think we tend to become suspicious about any stranger who asks for help because we were taught to do so at school and at home.
"When we see people begging on the street, the first thought that occurs to us is that they are cheaters."
Shi Aijun, director of the residential committee at Yulindongli community in Beijing's Fengtai district, said mistrust among people leads to some challenges in her work.
"It's difficult to persuade people to open their door for the census and answer surveys that require them to give personal information," she said.
"However, I think this phenomenon is very normal in cities as people live in a so-called stranger society and when you explain yourself clearly, most people will trust you and cooperate."
When respondents were asked to name institutions that they generally trust, about 69 percent said government, 64 percent public media, 57.5 percent non-governmental organizations, but only about 52 trusted commercial organizations.
The study also found that mistrust among different social groups, particularly between government officials and ordinary citizens as well as doctors and patients, has grown.
An official from Daqing, Heilongjiang province, who spoke to China Daily on condition of anonymity, said forced demolition in China's urbanization is one of the social issues that has resulted in tension between governmental officials and ordinary people.
"In terms of demolition, some residents assumed that parts of their compensation have been embezzled by local officials, so they resort to petition to seek higher subsidies, while some local officials treat them as troublemakers and do everything possible to stop them," he said. "Then mistrust grows stronger."
Wang Junxiu, who co-edited the blue book from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the low level of trust in China has led to many problems such as the waste of resources.
To improve trust, Wang urged the government to work harder to ensure all powers are under close watch and punish people who operate scams.