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Abstract Villages were once viewed as the base of individual and clan-centered human life. Against the waves of modernization and globalization, however, village culture has withered, gradually lost its original cultural sprit, and become a cultural desert. With the central government pursuing its “three rurals” campaign, developing agriculture and advancing new village-building, people across all sectors of society have paid increasing attention to the lag in culture-building in China’s villages. The Qu Yuan Village Library is the result of volunteer activities associated with the new focus on villages. This article takes the library as its example. This analysis of its formation, operations and challenges affords us a unique view into village-level volunteerism. The piece demonstrates how much village-level culture-building depends on the participation of elites from outside villages who donate much like “donating blood” or “giving alms”. Though these elites, rich in social resources and volunteer spirit, may be able to increase provision of cultural public goods in the short-run, because they lack long-term mechanisms for resource mobilization and sustained local participation, their efforts often result in “voluntary failure”. Resolving this issue will require “multi-centric” entities such as governments, markets and volunteer organizations to coordinate in order to ensure full expression of their functions.
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