This chapter examines the roots of public welfare in China, spanning the crucial 100 years before the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic, and highlighting the political importance of welfare provision across a range of very different Chinese regimes. Rather than attempting to map the contemporary Western understanding of welfare onto history, it presents Chinese ideas and institutions on their own terms. During the late nineteenth century, well-established traditions of State and private charity provision began to transform in the face of new pressures and opportunities, including the arrival of Christian missionary institutions. In the early twentieth century, China was divided into a number of regimes, including the Republic of China, the Communist-held areas and the Japanese client regime in Manchuria. This political fragmentation caused the welfare tradition to diversify into a number of competing ideologies and strategies. The transformation of welfare provision during this century was driven by a number of interrelated processes: the growing influence of foreign actors and institutions; the formation of legal and legislative frameworks for the rights and responsibilities of welfare providers; and the shift in balance between private and State initiative, and between disaster relief and longer-term programmes of economic development. This history continues to tangibly shape contemporary political and social attitudes towards welfare provision.