Prime minister Rishi Sunak has decided on the move because of an explosion of cases in China after it abandoned its zero-Covid policy.
The government is said to be concerned about a lack of reliable data from China on its cases and believes the measure will help improve surveilance.
Anyone flying from China from January 5 will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test before departing, bringing the UK into line with the approach taken by the US and other countries.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay described the move as “balanced and precautionary”, which comes as Beijing announced plans to start reissuing passports and visas for overseas trips.
Concerns have grown in recent days about surging case numbers in the Asian country after it relaxed its tough Covid-19 restrictions.
“As Covid cases in China rise ahead of them reopening their borders next week, it is right for us to take a balanced and precautionary approach by announcing these temporary measures while we assess the data,” Mr Barclay said.
“This allows our world-leading scientists at the UK Health Security Agency to gain rapid insight into potential new variants circulating in China.”
The move would bring the UK in line with other countries such as Spain, Italy, the US and India in screening arrivals from China.
However, other countries such as Germany, Australia and Portugal have so far declined to introduce fresh rules.
It reportedly means travellers from China will have to take tests and will only be allowed to fly into the UK if they test negative within 48 hours of departure.
It comes after China said it would reopen its borders from January 8 and allow its more of its citizens to fly abroad by dropping restrictions on the number and capacity of flights.
Ministers had faced pressure from some Tory backbenchers to introduce testing, despite some scientists questioning the efficacy of testing arrivals.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 earlier Friday, Andrew Pollard, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, questioned the need for the move, saying it would be unlikely to stop new variants reaching the UK.
“Trying to ban a virus by adjusting what we do with travel has already been shown not to work very well,” he said.
“We have seen that with the bans on travel from various countries during the pandemic”.
Among the Tory backbenchers who had called for the move was Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee.
He told LBC: “Any dithering leaves us as a hostage to fortune … The later you leave any action, the less impact it will have. Let’s get testing in place.”
No 10 had previously sought to downplay the idea that negative tests could be required, saying earlier there were “no plans to introduce any new Covid-19 testing for arrivals”.
On Friday, France also announced new rules for air passengers from China, saying they would be required to present a negative Covid test less than 48 hours before arrival.
China has responded to countries moving to require negative tests before arrival by saying its “epidemic situation” was “under control”.
Its state-run media has criticised the restrictions, calling them “unfounded" and “discriminatory”.