We use the agency theory to conduct a novel test of the strategic use of property insurance in China's corporate sector. With regard to our main test hypotheses, we find that the incidence of property insurance purchased is directly related to the degree of product–market competitiveness, and positively related to market liquidity and firms’ growth opportunities. However, the homogeneity of market operations is not statistically significant. In our second-stage Cragg regression, market liquidity becomes insignificant while firms’ growth opportunities are now inversely related to the amount of insurance purchased. Additionally, the homogeneity of market operations becomes significantly related to the corporate purchase of property insurance. Therefore, different factors (e.g. cost considerations) may influence the decisions to purchase property insurance and subsequently, the level of coverage provided. We argue that our results are relevant for companies in other emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and companies operating in more developed Western economies such as the European Union (EU).