Research engagement is an important means for teachers to develop their professional competence. This paper reports on an enquiry into the research engagement of a group of primary school English language teachers in Guangdong province on the Chinese mainland. Drawing on questionnaire data and teachers’ interview narratives, the paper examines how these Chinese primary school teachers experienced research and what their conceptions of good quality research were. While the enquiry revealed that the participants had a variety of research experiences, it also revealed that their research engagement was undermined by numerous contextual constraints and their perceived inadequacy as teacher researchers. These findings will be discussed with suggestions for making research an effective sustainable path for primary school English teachers’ professional development. Copyright © 2011 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press.