Development NGOs and social work agencies are the major non-governmental forces that actively participate in post-disaster community reconstruction, and they generally emphasize theories and strategies of participatory development and empowerment. However, in practice, this type of strategy has met with many challenges. This article analyses the course of reconstruction in B community, as observed over three consecutive years by the authors. We point out that the community is engaged in pluralistic social processes: rapid post-disaster reconstruction, rural-urban unification, and social governance reform. Having so many forces involved in all aspects of this process means that explanation falls beyond the remit of traditional community participation theory. By analyzing three drivers of post-disaster reconstruction – the local government, community residents, and development NGOs – this article shows that transitional social development requires cooperative governance relations between the backbone of community, civil society organizations, state power, and market forces. This can promote pluralistic social power structures and generate real community empowerment. At the same time, it is important that this form of empowerment should not heighten divisions between officialdom and citizens, and should not result in the reliance of residents on the local government, which would thus take on the shape of a new internal colonization, but rather should promote cooperation between people and the authorities, develop innovative ways of dealing with social issues, and put actual pluralistic governance into practice.