This article aims to investigate the evidence of spatio-temporal disparity in rural household income at the provincial level in China during the 1978–2007 period. A research framework is developed to study the transitional processes of decentralisation, marketisation, urbanisation and globalisation. By computing the Moran’s I index and using the spatial regression model, the findings indicate a highly clustered, spatio-temporal disparity in rural household income across the eastern, central and western regions in China during the post-reform era. Rural household income tends to be higher in the eastern provinces in comparison to inland provinces. This disparity is attributed to the impacts from the institutional, economic, social and external transitions that become increasingly significant in the recent decades in China.