Abstract Data on the height, weight, age and grade level of over 3,000 children in five quite different locations in China allow computation of how far behind in school each child is, relative to where he should be given his age, as well as of the nutritional status variables of height-for-age, weight-for-age and weight-for-height. This paper uses these data to estimate the impact of the nutritional variables on the available measure of school performance. Children tend to be about one grade further behind in rural areas than in the provincial capitals, and about one-half a grade further behind in the provincial capitals than in Beijing. Even after controlling for location, however, lower nutritional status (particularly height-for-age) was found to affect school performance adversely; a one standard deviation reduction in height-for-age, for example, would result in a child's being about one-third of a year further behind. Though results from a geographically limited sample should be generalized only with substantial caution, and alternative interpretations of the data are possible, it does appear likely that malnutrition in rural China remained sufficiently prevalent in 1979 to retard the school advancement of large numbers of children.