Play, as an educational concept, has entered many kindergartens in China; yet it has not become a core idea, or been prioritised in the teaching and learning process. An ongoing trans-provincial study started in 2008, using observation, interviews and document analyses. Based on findings from nine kindergartens in three provinces, this article illustrates how the concept of play is perceived and manifested in kindergartens located in three cities across China. It is suggested that there is a certain relationship between the rank and the status of play in a kindergarten, which may offer a systematic way to better understand how the concept of play is represented in Chinese kindergartens. Evidence also shows that the play concept has influenced Chinese educational ideas and pedagogy at certain levels but without changing the fundamental Chinese ideas of a play and learning relationship. Explanations for the phenomena observed, such as ranking versus forms of manifestation will be suggested.