The match was settled by a moment of brilliance when, in the 10th minute, Maartje Goderie brilliantly dribbled her way along the left byline before cutting inside and firing across goalkeeper Zhang Yimen and in off the far post.
The Netherlands continued to dominate in the second half but were unable to press home their advantage and this was reflected in their penalty corner statistics which saw them fail to convert any of their nine attempts.
Even when China were temporarily reduced to nine by Song Qingling's yellow card and Gao Lihua's green, the Netherlands could not find a way through.
The closest they came was when Naomi van As deflected a cross onto the outside of the near post.
China also lost Xu Xiaoxu, sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes, but it made little difference as the form of goalkeeper Zhang and a lack of sharpness in the circle ensured the winning margin was not extended further.
Hopes remain for China, silver medallists four years ago on home soil, to make the semi-finals, but they must win Saturday's encounter with Host Nation Great Britain to stand a real chance.