This article explores how trust affects the nature and characteristics of civic engagement among university students in contemporary China. We draw upon empirical evidence from in-depth individual interviews involving 68 students born between 1993 and 1999. Four different types of civic activities, including associational membership with the Chinese Communist Party as well as self-organised town-fellowship associations, volunteering and digital activism, are analysed in relation to bridging, bonding and/or obligatory relationships. Generalised trust amongst university students seems to be low, but they do exhibit unquestioned trust in the State. The organisations with which they associate either are top-down through the Communist Party, which is ideologically narrow and socially distant among the members, or promote geographical origin-based bonding rather than bridging relationships. Our findings add new depth to our understanding of the relationships between the dominant modalities of trust and the typical form of civic participation in Chinese universities. We also highlight the effects of increasing meritocratic competition and stress on performativity on the civic attitudes and behaviour of students. We argue that the hybrid of neoliberal individualism and Confucianism seems to be a perfect match to reconcile the absence of civic traditions and to validate civic consciousness among university youth.