The increasing ageing population contributes to growing demands for personal care that fulfils ageing adults’ preferences and expectations. This study explored Chinese ageing adults’ expected forms and sources of future personal care and the factors influencing care expectations. A qualitative photovoice research method – which integrated photography, interviews and group discussions – was used for data collection between January and April 2016. Through purposive sampling, 36 community-residing participants aged 51–80 years took photographs that captured personal care preferences or expectations within individual, familial and societal contexts. Participants described feelings of worry, uncertainty and unpreparedness for future care needs and arrangements. They preferred practicing self-care for as long as possible and remaining in their homes and communities (“ageing in place”) through support from assistive technologies, family members or home-based and community services. Institutional care was regarded as the last resort. The findings reflected discrepancies between ageing adults’ care preferences and realities and their ambivalent attitudes towards filial care when switching between roles. Confronted with the increasingly unreliable family care, financial resources and insufficient community services, participants anticipated receiving institutional care that would be less satisfying or that they would dislike. As caregivers, ageing adults displayed strong commitment to filial obligations, whereas when perceiving themselves as care receivers they felt that they could not expect care from their children because of practical considerations. By understanding preferred care forms and sources, actors can devote resources, policies and interventions to support self-care through proactive planning and technological advancement, foster “ageing in place” through family and community care, and improve institutional care to enable ageing with dignity.