Recipient targeting of the minimum living standard guarantee system (dibao) in rural China is inefficient. This article uses qualitative methods to examine the forms of discretion that village cadres use, which explain the poor targeting of recipients of the rural dibao. The research compares the findings of the study with theoretical explanations of street-level bureaucracy and discretion in the West. It argues that "political implementation" is the primary reason for village cadres' discretion. Village cadres become politically oriented in their targeting of rural dibao recipients because of their dual roles as "street-level bureaucrats" and "village leaders".