The purpose of this paper is to offer a theoretical discussion on teacher leadership in early childhood education (ECE) in Chinese contexts. Since 2010, the Chinese government has initiated a comprehensive education reform in ECE, with strategies for developing teacher leadership and promoting education quality. However, at the school level there is a lack of leadership preparation and development, along with a gap between policy initiative and its implementation. How to narrow this gap between policy and practice in teacher leadership has become a critical issue for ECE in China. This paper suggests that ‘formal role or informal role’ and ‘role or practice’ are important dimensions of teacher leadership in a Chinese, policy-driven context. In this regard, it is worth exploring how teacher leadership is conceptualized and enacted in the process of quality improvement and related contextual factors. In doing so, an agenda could be identified for future research, contributing to theories on the development of teacher leadership in the global discourse. Copyright © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.