The second leg will be played next week in Suzhou, with the winner of the two-legged Asian women's football qualifier booking a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.
While the hosts could count on their English-based stars Ji So-yun (Chelsea) and Lee Geum-min (Brighton) with Tottenham's Cho So-hyun on the bench, China relied solely on a domestic-based team in their efforts to book a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games spot.
The visitors took the lead in the 33rd minute in Goyang through Zhang Xin, but the Chinese advantage lasted only six minutes before Kang Chae-rim equalised for the Koreans after an assist from Ji.
The teams were level going into the break, although a score draw would also have handed China the advantage on the away-goals rule, which is in effect for the playoff.
It was South Korea who dominated attempts on the opposition goal, getting 12 shots off, five of which were on target. However, a below-par passing completion rate of just 51 per cent meant they never really built a fluid style of play, as their passes failed to find their intended receivers.
Ultimately, a penalty kick from Wang Shuang in the 73rd minute settled the first leg, giving China a 2–1 advantage to defend next week in Suzhou on 13 April.
With two away goals conceded, South Korea will need to win the second leg by two clear goals, or score at least three in a victory, to secure their first Olympic appearance.
The other Olympic qualifying playoff, between Cameroon and Chile, will take place on 10 and 13 April.