Saudi Arabia, who have reached the final in six of the last eight editions and won the event in 1984, 88 and 96, claimed the points in new coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro's first competitive game since replacing Frank Rijkaard thanks to Naif Hazazi's 77th-minute winner.
Joining the Saudis on three points in a tough-looking Group C were 2007 champions Iraq, who beat Indonesia 1-0 courtesy of a second-half goal from Younus Mahmoud in Dubai.
Iran are setting the early pace in Group B after the three-time former champions thrashed 10-man Lebanon 5-0.
Captain Javad Nekounam led the way with a hat-trick, two of which came from the penalty spot, while Standard Liege forward Reza Ghoochannejhad netted the other two goals.
In the same group Kuwait saw off Thailand 3-1 in Bangkok.
Uzbekistan, who are the top-ranked team in qualifying with Asian heavyweights Japan, North Korea, South Korea and host nation Australia already through to the finals, were held to a goalless home draw by Hong Kong in their opener despite playing against 10 men for over half-an-hour.
That left them third in Group E, with United Arab Emirates leading the way following their 2-1 away win over Vietnam.
In Group A, Jordan started their campaign with a convincing 4-0 win over Singapore while Oman defeated Syria 1-0.
Bahrain and Qatar share the lead in Group D after both recorded 2-0 triumphs on Wednesday, beating Yemen and Malaysia respectively.
The top two nations from each group will qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup with the best third-placed team from all groups also earning a ticket to Australia.
Wednesday's 2015 AFC Asian Cup Qualifying Results
Oman 1-0 Syria
Iran 5-0 Lebanon
Saudi Arabia 2-1 China
Yemen 0-2 Bahrain
Uzbekistan 0-0 Hong Kong