How to reduce poverty in lagging regions remains much debated and underserved with solid empirical evidence. This study illustrates an empirical methodology to analyze the pathways households followed out of poverty and to explore their potential in the future using 2000–2004 rural household panel data from two lagging provinces of China, Inner Mongolia and Gansu. It finds that rising labor productivity in agriculture has been key in understanding poverty reduction in rural lagging areas of these provinces and that it still holds much promise. Circular migration has also been important in Gansu, though less so in Inner Mongolia. On average, rural diversification has not proven to contribute much to poverty reduction and income transfers and agricultural tax abolishment have only helped at the margin. The findings from these two case studies highlight that the scope for reducing poverty in rural lagging regions can still be substantial in agriculture, also when nonagriculture drives national growth.