There has been much discussion about the contributions of qualitative research to social work knowledge, but the experiences of social work faculty engaged in qualitative research are rarely discussed. Social work is at the early developmental stage in China, which makes the country a useful laboratory to examine this question. The current study aimed to understand experiences of Chinese qualitative social work faculty and how their methodological orientation affected their career trajectories. Nine semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted and analysed. Thematic data analysis revealed three major themes: suitability, methodological challenges and structural barriers. Findings indicate that qualitative social work research has an optimistic future in China, but methodological challenges and structural barriers create invisible disadvantages. This study highlights the need for rigorous qualitative research training, including apprenticeship; translation of more qualitative learning materials into Chinese; and support for the purchase, training and use of qualitative software packages. The results also point to the need for institutional review boards or other ethical oversight mechanisms. More importantly, there must be greater consensus regarding what constitutes scientific rigour, which projects should be funded, what are evaluative criteria for publication, and whom to hire and promote.