China has become the largest importer of tropical wood and is the destination of more than three-quarters of Africa's timber exports. This demand has raised international concern about the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of Chinese timber supply chains in Africa. Many types of Chinese actors are active in the timber industry in the Congo Basin and the Miombo Woodlands. A variety of Chinese private (as opposed to state-funded) logging companies and traders play a major role in facilitating timber exports to China. These private businesses (logging companies and traders) operate according to the local standards of legal, customary or informal practices depending on the producer countries and vary significantly in terms of location of headquarters, nationality/ethnicity of owners and investors, size and supply chains. In terms of environmental and social impacts, our research on Chinese timber supply chains demonstrates mixed results depending on the location, business type, and specific timber species and products. Illegally harvested timber finds its way to China through complex networks of large and small Chinese and non-Chinese companies, local loggers operating in largely informal local timber markets, and local elites connected to the trade. Though such practices may infringe on state laws, they may involve active participation from local small producers and may be aligned with local informal sector norms. The diversity of operators (nationals, Chinese, European and other), the types of operations (small- vs. large-scale or mixed) and markets served (national, regional, African and international) do not support the oversimplified narrative of China's role in Africa that circulates in policy circles and the media. We found that a wide variety of business models and value chains are used. As a result, we argue that there are multiple potential leverage points for policy intervention. Effective policy making on all sides must take into account the characteristics of specific business models.