Late socialist countries are transforming faster than ever. Across China, Laos and Vietnam, where market economies coexist with socialist political rhetoric and the Communist party state’s rule, sweeping processes of change open up new vistas of imaginaries of the future alongside uncertainty and anxiety. These countries are three of very few living examples that combine capitalist economics with party state politics. Consequently, societal transformations in these contexts are subject to pressures and agendas not found elsewhere, and yet they are no less subject to global forces than elsewhere. As all three countries maintain substantial rural populations, and because those rural areas are themselves places of change, how rural people across these changing contexts undertake future making is a timely and significant question. The contributions in the issue address this question by engaging with lived experiences and government agendas across Laos, China and Vietnam, showing a politics of development in which desire and hope are entangled with the contradictions and struggles of late socialism.