The inclusive development strategy proposed by the Chinese government embraces social inclusion for older people. In line with most developing countries, China’s policy on social inclusion for older people focuses almost exclusively on material security in the form of pensions. This paper examines the impact of pensions on social inclusion for older people across four dimensions: family interaction, social support, social participation and self-assessment using data from the 2014 China Longitudinal Ageing Social Survey. The results demonstrate that pensions improve dramatically the relationships between older adults and their family members and friends, and therefore their social inclusion in the life world. The exception is social participation which seems to be immune to material income effects. However, the stratified pension system in China generates complex and hierarchical effects on social inclusion among different sub-groups. Social inclusion among older people with high exclusion risks but low pensions is very sensitive to pension levels. Conversely, most pensions are distributed to those with the lowest exclusion risks as a result of the disappearance of their impact on social inclusion. We argue that future social inclusion policies for older people in China should focus first on achieving greater equality in pensions.