There are several important reasons for examining and trying to understand Chinese agriculture. It is, to begin with, the largest ‘agricultural system’ in the world: it ranks number one globally in terms of farm output and embraces over 200 million smallholdings.1 With just 10 per cent of all cultivated land in the world, these smallholders produce 20 per cent of the world’s total food supply. This suggests that China’s agriculture performs exceptionally well. Yet, we should be aware that if something were to go wrong in this agricultural system the consequences would be catastrophic. China’s agriculture also stands out for its impressive development over recent decades. Production and productivity have grown continuously and this growth has gone hand in hand with an equally impressive alleviation of rural poverty. This suggests that the example of China’s agriculture might also have a relevance beyond the country’s boundaries, particularly in places where productivity has failed to keep up with population growth but also in other places where agriculture has reached an impasse. As implausible as this may first sound, it might also help to highlight some of the changes that are badly needed in agriculture in ‘developed countries’. However, it is far from easy to understand the nature, dynamics and drivers of China’s agriculture.