Research on suzhi has often engaged with poststructuralist perspectives of governmentality, subjectivity, and the ideal citizen subject. However, these poststructuralist ideas do not fully integrate Chinese culture into their understanding of suzhi. Lin (2017) incorporates Confucian beliefs around the governments’ use of shame to encourage citizens to strive for higher levels of education and personal qualities into her framework of transformational citizenship. Building on these two perspectives, we analyze the uses of suzhi in seven milestone national anti-poverty policies in China since the 1980s. Using both quantitative content analysis and qualitative analysis of the discourse of suzhi, we found that suzhi is evaluative, amendable, multifaceted and urbanized. With an abductive approach to connect data analysis and theoretical perspectives, we argue that neither the poststructuralist framework nor the transformational citizenship framework fully explains the ways in which suzhi has been discussed in China’s developmental agendas. We propose an alternative perspective that incorporates both “the strong state” and “individual agency” in suzhi discourses.