During the past 20 years, China’s agro-ecosystems have great changes in response to changes in climate and agricultural management. Agricultural productivity is of vital importance to the national food security and sustainable development. So far, agricultural statistics are the only source of the data about changes in agricultural productivity in national scale, and there is little geo-spatial information on these changes. Remote sensing provides an important tool to monitor the spatial and temporal variations at high resolution, but it had yet to used fully at regional and national scales to assess the interannual and long-term changes in agricultural productivity. This study estimated agricultural net primary productivity (ANPP) at the national level using a remote sensing-based production efficiency model, GLO-PEM. In the study, the arable area has been derived from TM data. ANPP was calculated from 8m, 10-day composite Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometers (AVHRR) data from 1981 to 2000 using GLO-PEM model. Using the data we analyzed the spatial variations in agricultural productivity in China between the 1980s and the 1990s. A 3-level hierarchy regionalization system is used in analyzing the spatial pattern and its changes in the agricultural productivity. China’s average agricultural ANPP increased 59.8 million tons from the 1980s to the 1990s. The increment of ANPP mainly occurred in the major cereal-planting plains, especially HuangHuaiHai Plain. The characteristics of land resources are the dominating factors to cause the changes at 10 years scale. There were some decreases, which mainly caused by the degradation on fragile lands, the rapid expansion of rural industries, and the urban development from high-quality arable lands.