Yu Dabao's header and a stirring second-half performance by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng saw Marcello Lippi's side claim a 1-0 win over South Korea that keeps China's slim hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals alive.
Yu headed in the winner 11 minutes before the break while Zeng made a trio of superb saves to deny Uli Stielike's side in the second half as the Chinese notched up their first win over the South Koreans in seven years, and only their second ever victory against their more illustrious rivals.
Lippi started with five of his former Guangzhou Evergrande squad in the line-up, with Zheng Zhi taking the captain's armband and Feng Xiaoting leading the defence, while Zhang Linpeng was a marauding presence at right-back.
The heavily tattooed defender was a constant menace in the opening 45 minutes as he was given license to drive towards the Korean backline, which he did with relish.
Twice in the opening minutes the 27-year-old caused the Koreans problems, firing well over the bar from distance before, minutes later, driving his cross in from the right that the visiting defence did well to steer to safety.
Yu went closest to scoring the opening 30 minutes when Wu Xi's through ball found the Beijing Guoan forward in space in the penalty, but he could only manage to steer his shot into the arms of Korean goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae.
The Koreans, despite having more of the ball, were reduced to trying their luck from distance. Lee Jeong-hyeop and Nam Tae-hee both let fly, narrowly missing the target before the Chinese took the lead.
Again it was Zhang Linpeng who was causing the problems, with the full-back storming forward before firing off a shot that was deflected wide for the corner from which Yu glanced his header home following Wang Yongpo's cross towards the six-yard box.
Stielike's side almost grabbed an equaliser in the dying minutes of the half as Ji Dong-won sent his header just over the bar before Kim Jin-su's cross was almost turned into his own goal by a bewildered Feng.
The Koreans introduced towering striker Kim Shin-wook at the start of the second half while Lippi brought on Wu Lei for Wu Xi, but it was Zeng in the Chinese goal who seemed to be the most active player on the pitch.
Ki, who had had a quiet first half, stepped further forward for the visitors and, just before the hour mark, he let fly with a trademark drive that Zeng pushed clear. Six minutes later the Swansea City man tried again, only for Zeng to be resolute once more.
China continued to present a threat at the other end, even if it was increasingly sporadic. Yu's effort was deflected to safety while Wu Lei saw his goal-bound effort saved by a sprawling Kwoun.
The action continued at a relentless pace and Zeng again kept China in front, diving to his right to deny another Ji Dong-won header while Wu Lei later cleared another attempt off the line as Lippi's side desperately held on for a famous and much-needed win.