This study analyzes a new phenomenon emerging in urban neighbourhoods in China – bottom-up citizen engagement?including the direct election of community representatives, rights talk and the creation of rules for self-direction. The study looks at how the new values have emerged and the historical and contextual factors that have driven their development. A multi-level analysis was employed in combining a socio-cultural analysis with an empirical examination, including the results of a quantitative survey of residents of several Beijing neighbourhoods. The new value is an unprecedented development in Chinese culture in contrast with the traditional top-down discourse. The empirical data also reveal that factors such as age, levels of education, or residence in a certain type of community structure influence whether or not an individual is likely to engage in bottom-up participation. People’s awareness of the option of citizen engagement is gradual and cumulative, but indigenous resources for developing a democratic neighbourhood are increasing, as more people become property owners and have the opportunity to travel to other countries where citizen engagement is more common.