A 328.58 m drill core (XK12) was recovered from lacustrine–alluvial sediments in the Xingkai Basin, northeast China, with the aim of obtaining a high-resolution pollen record of East Asian winter monsoon (EAWM) evolution since 3.6 Ma. An index based on the pollen record of thermophilous trees and terrestrial herbs is used as an indicator of winter temperature conditions controlled by the EAWM, at the glacial–interglacial scale. Primary age control was established based on lithostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy, and then the pollen index was correlated to the LR04 global benthic δ18O record and finally tuned to Earth orbital obliquity to produce a high-resolution astronomical time scale. The pollen record indicates that the EAWM underwent two stepwise enhancements at 2.8 and 1.6 Ma. These events are consistent with paleoclimatic records of mean quartz grain size from the Chinese Loess Plateau, and they are also in accord with the initiation and intensification of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Our findings suggest that the variability of the EAWM since 3.6 Ma was primarily controlled by changes in global ice volume and climatic cooling.