Despite becoming one of China's fastest expanding and most valuable forest land uses, bamboo's role in livelihoods and rural development is poorly understood. Detailed quantitative data from 240 households were used to study the contribution of bamboo to household income and rural livelihoods in 12 remote and mountainous villages in southern China. Bamboo was a ubiquitous and highly utilised resource for a wide range of subsistence purposes in all households. Bamboo income was predominantly derived from dried bamboo shoots cultivated in small-scale household plots, and was the single most valuable source of cash. The average bamboo income share was 13.3%, ranging from 0 to 50% between villages. High income households had the highest absolute bamboo income, but low income households had the highest dependence on bamboo income. It is suggested that bamboo is an excellent pro poor resource, especially in remote, mountainous areas with limited off-farm income opportunities.