This study aims to explore the feasible and sustainable rural development model in China from the perspective of participants. The paper proposed the concept of ‘the community of rural development’: the actors who participate in rural planning, housing and infrastructure construction, industrial development, environmental improvement and social progress, and analysed its evolutionary process from traditional to modern and social network structure characteristics. On this basis, the study proposed six models of rural development in China and selected six typical cases for detailed analysis. These models include village committee-led, peasant organization-led, township enterprise-led, government-led, external enterprise-led and NGO-led. Based on the methodology of social network analysis, the paper designed a simulated routing to analyse the network evolution characteristics of these models and elaborated four output indicators: clustering coefficient, average path length, density and degree centrality of the core actor. The results showed that the internal-actor-led model is superior to the external-actor-led model due to the close inter-relationships among the participants and the strong influence of the core actor. Finally, the paper proposed building partnerships in the community of rural development that are stable and harmonious over the long term and could promote rural development and sustainable renewal in a comprehensive way.