Abstract Two studies examined the relationship between preschool experiences and the early academic achievement of rural Chinese children. In both Study 1 ( n = 165) and Study 2 ( n = 205), the school preparedness, and the literacy and mathematics attainment of first graders with different preschool experiences (kindergarten, separate pre-primary class, “sitting-in” a Grade 1 class, no preschool experience) were assessed. In Study 1, educational attainment was evaluated using end-of-semester examinations designed by local educational authorities; whereas in Study 2, better-constructed and identical tests were administered at the beginning and end of the academic year. Further, in Study 2, the different types of preschool programs attended by participating children were directly observed. Findings from both studies showed that children with developmentally appropriate preschool experiences (kindergartens or separate pre-primary classes) had higher school readiness scores than other children. Results from Study 2 also indicated that (i) disparities in children's school attainment were associated with the type of their preschool experience; and (ii) children from the developmentally appropriate kindergarten program showed higher mathematics and literacy achievement at the end of Grade 1 than children who merely “sat in” Grade 1 classes or had no preschool experience. Implications of the findings for the scaling up of preschool services in rural China are discussed.