Despite high-speed economic growth in recent decades, rural China is still confronted with persisting poverty, alongside energy shortages and environmental degradation. In tackling climate change, carbon emissions from rural energy use have been given little attention up till now. This paper provides an analysis of rural residential CO2 emissions in China based on diverse accounting methods, and employs the geographic information system (GIS) to map emissions of each province. Identifying the major emission sources could provide a basis for understanding the potential for greenhouse gas emission reduction and proposing related policy recommendations. The results showed that the largest GHG mitigation potential can be found at traditional biomass use among residents. Four emission reduction policy strategies are identified: (i) shifting to commercial energy; (ii) furthering the use of decentralized renewable energy options; (iii) commercializing biomass energy via biomass power generation, biomass briquettes and biogas production; (iv) improving the combustion efficiency of traditional biomass use in household appliances. Differences in resource endowment and local economic conditions created varied levels of rural residential greenhouse gas emission, the related mitigation potential, and the kinds of strategies and policies that need to be developed in the Chinese provinces.