The broad aim of this article is to analyse the institutions of China’s rural local governments in their own right, and thus further our understanding of the political and social mechanisms that maintain and support them. What changes do rural officials’ evolving notions of “development” and “modernisation” under Xi Jinping bring? What shifts can we detect? This article focuses on two developments under Xi: the increased role of the Party-led “leading small groups” in Chinese local governments, and Xi’s “war on poverty”, which aims to lift all Chinese citizens out of poverty by 2020 through a mixture of targeted fiscal support and compulsory resettlement of millions of rural residents. Examining these developments sheds some insights into Xi’s efforts to remodel the Chinese polity and society. Do they represent a real break with past practice, or do they provide evidence of continuity with previous trends in China’s institutions of rural governance?