This article, in a study of amoral cost-benefit analysis, legitimacy and capacity to obey the law, seeks to understand why Chinese farmers obey or break pesticide rules. It uses data gathered through intensive fieldwork at a local level, including interviews with 31 pesticide experts and officials and 119 vegetable farmers in central China. It uncovers an enforcement-compliance paradox: a situation where law enforcement concentrates exactly on those rules that are least likely to be broken and on those regulated actors who are most likely to comply. It finds two explanations. First, enforcement policy simply may not be aware of which rules are more likely to be complied with and which regulated actors are more likely to comply even when there is limited deterrence. Second, technocratic risk-averse enforcement policy may be oriented towards those rules and actors for which violation - theoretically - results in the greatest damage, not towards those rules that are more likely to be broken and those actors who are more likely to break them.