The majority of China's population lives in rural areas and a pattern is emerging of very uneven provision of support for rural elderly people. Local economic conditions and broad demographic trends are creating diversity in the ability both of rural families to care for their elderly kin and in the capacity of communities to support their elderly residents and family carers. In part as a consequence of China's population policy and the 'one-child policy', future Chinese families will have fewer members and be 'older', but they will continue to be regarded emotionally and in policy as the main source of economic and social support for the elderly. The increasing involvement of women in the paid workforce and the changing geographical distribution of family members resulting from work-related migration, are reducing the ability of families to care for their elderly relatives. The availability of resources other than the family for the care of older persons therefore becomes a key issue. Communities in more prosperous, modernising rural areas are often able to provide their elderly residents with welfare and social benefits previously found almost exclusively in urban areas. However, in poorly developed rural areas, provision is either very patchy or non-existent and the local economy cannot support expansion or improvement. A case study in Zhejiang Province illustrates the favourable provision for ageing in a prosperous modernising rural community, in which entitled elderly residents are provided with an impressive array of financial and social benefits. The paper concludes with a consideration of the policy implications of the growing differentiation of the social and economic capacity of rural communities to support their elderly members.