Pleistocene climate fluctuations shaped the patterns of genetic diversity observed in extant species. In contrast to Europe and North America where the effects of recent glacial cycles on genetic diversity have been well studied, the genetic legacy of the Late Pleistocene for East Asia, a region of great topographical complexity and presumably milder historical climate, remains poorly understood. We analysed 3.86 kb of the mitochondrial genome of 186 Chinese Hwamei birds, Leucodioptron canorum canorum, and found that contrary to the conventional expectation of population decline during cold periods (stadials), the demographic history of this species shows continuous population growth since the penultimate glacial period (about 170 000 years ago). Refugia were identified in the south, coastal regions, and northern inland areas, implying that topographic complexity played a substantial role in providing suitable habitats for the Chinese Hwamei during cold periods. Intermittent gene flow between these refugia during the warmer periods (interstadials) might have resulted in a large effective population of this bird through the last glacial period.