Li Ying scored with a brilliant first-half volley to earn China victory over debutants South Africa, who face elimination from the Women’s World Cup.
The result means Group B rivals Germany qualify for the last 16, with China and Spain hoping to join them.
After an uneventful first 40 minutes, Li brought the Parc des Princes crowd to their feet when she converted Zhang Rui’s pinpoint delivery.
Wang Shanshan went close with a header that hit the bar and came off the line.
South Africa looked like they could cause the Asian side problems on the counter-attack but they lacked accurate final balls.
Africa’s player of the year Thembi Kgatlana, who scored against Spain in the 3-1 defeat, produced Banyana Banyana’s best chance when she burst into the area and fired into the side-netting.
Her team-mate Kholosa Biyana launched an effort from 25 yards but it was easily dealt with by Jiangsu Suning goalkeeper Peng Shimeng.
South Africa will need to defeat two-time champions Germany in their final match by a handsome margin to qualify for the last 16.