A total of six amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) primer combinations were used to detect genetic variation of pooled DNA in a sample of 12 chicken breeds indigenous to China, and AFLP DNA fingerprinting of each chicken breed was constructed. Polymorphic bands, specific bands and genetic similarity coefficients of 12 chicken breeds were calculated from AFLP data. A total of 279 polymorphic bands were generated by the six primer combinations, giving, on average, 46.5 polymorphic markers detected per primer combination. Nine specific bands were produced in the pooled DNA of Jiuyuan black and Dongxiang black chickens. However, one specific band was produced in the pooled DNA of Wenchang and Xingyi bantam chickens. An unweighted-pair-group method using average linkages (UPGMA) cluster analysis revealed that the 12 chicken breeds could be divided into three groups. Genetic similarity coefficients and the UPGMA tree of the 12 chicken breeds were consistent with their breeding history as well as their geographical distribution. Based on AFLP DNA fingerprinting, genetic diversity, genetic relationship and identification of chicken breeds can be analysed.