Using individual-level survey data while incorporating county/district-level information on per capita gross domestic product, this study finds that economic development in China has a dual effect on popular trust in the central government. First, positive individual-level perception of family economic conditions (compared to the past) increases trust in central government. Second, county/district-level per capita GDP is negatively correlated with individual-level trust in the central government. Methodologically, the article suggests that researchers may conduct contextualized thought experiment to establish logical priority of one event over another, particularly when it is impractical to empirically determine the temporal sequence of phenomena that are observed simultaneously in cross-sectional surveys. The article also suggests that China scholars may employ cross-region comparison as a substitute for longitudinal research when it comes to projecting long-term effects of quantitatively traceable changes such as economic development.