There is considerable uncertainty concerning changes in plant diversity of Chinese secondary forests, particularly with respect to diversity recovery following anthropogenic disturbance. Here we present a meta-analysis of the recovery of woody plant species richness in secondary forests in China, with nearby primary forests as a reference. A total of 125 pairs of secondary-primary forest data reported in 55 publications were identified across China. We analyzed the data by region and logging history to examine their influences on secondary forest recovery. Our results indicated that the woody plant richness of secondary forests in China was close to fully recovered when compared to the primary forest, with the recovery ratio being 85–103%. Higher recovery ratios were observed in central, northeast and southwest China, with lower recovery ratios seen in east, south and northwest China, and the recovery in central China significantly reached the primary forests (reference) level. Concerning logging histories, the recovery ratios showed two peak values, with one at 21–40 years after clear cutting and the other at 61–80 years. We reveal the fundamental recovery patterns of woody plant species richness in secondary forests in China. These patterns provide information for the sustainable management of secondary forest resources.