‘Rural community building’ is one of the most prominent policies of rural urbanization and village renovation in China. Since the nationwide implementation of this policy within the scope of the programme ‘Building a new socialist countryside’, the large-scale construction of new residential complexes has accelerated the transformation of the country’s rural landscape. However, extensive demolition and relocation have drawn increasing criticism, and the policy has become synonymous with the seizure of rural land resources by local governments. When Xi Jinping came to power, the new leadership initially appeared to abandon the policy but has eventually revived it. This article studies the implementation and evolution of the rural community building policy as a case of policy learning. The analysis of national and local policy documents and implementation practices in four provinces highlights a new framing of the policy, more intensive hierarchical controls over rural land use, and the state’s increasing reach into village governance, as well as new incentives for local governments to continue with demolition and relocation projects. These changes reveal a mode of policy learning in the context of an authoritarian regime whose goal is to improve policy implementation in the face of growing public criticism and social tension.