As a key component of DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course) strategy, DOT is essential in the prevention of drug-resistant tuberculosis. However, DOT had very poor implementation in rural areas of China. One major reason to this problem was the lack of incentives for DOT providers. In 2005, the Chinese Minister of Health released an incentive strategy that aimed to improve the DOT performance of rural health workers by providing allowances. Our study used a qualitative method to explore the practical impact of this incentive strategy in motivating rural DOT providers, and searched for other potential incentive measures as well. A total of 16 focus group discussions were carried out among 102 rural health workers in eight counties of China. A semi-structured theme outline was used to collect the perception, attitude and experiences of health workers toward the DOT implementation as well as the cash incentive strategy. Findings showed that DOT allowance had some incentive effect to DOT providers, but its extent was circumscribed by the small amount and operational problems. Raising DOT allowance and removing existing barriers to DOT provision might result in a greater motivational impact, particularly in less developed areas of China, where health workers were more likely to encounter financial and other obstacles in delivering DOT services to TB patients in rural areas. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.