The present study aimed to investigate the association of the Chinese visceral adiposity index (CVAI) and its 6-year change with hypertension risk and compare the ability of CVAI and other obesity indices to predict hypertension based on the Rural Chinese Cohort Study. Study participants were randomly recruited by a cluster sampling procedure, and 10 304 participants ≥18 years were included. Modified Poisson regression was used to derive adjusted relative risks (RR) and 95 % CI. We identified 2072 hypertension cases during a median of 6·03 years of follow-up. The RR for the highest v. lowest CVAI quartile were 1·29 (95 % CI 1·05, 1·59) for men and 1·53 (95 % CI 1·22, 1·91) for women. Per-sd increase in CVAI was associated with hypertension for both men (RR 1·09, 95 % CI 1·02, 1·16) and women (RR 1·14, 95 % CI 1·06, 1·22). Also, the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve value for hypertension was higher for CVAI than the four other obesity indices for both sexes (all P < 0·05). Finally, per-sd increase in CVAI change was associated with hypertension for both men (RR 1·26, 95 % CI 1·16, 1·36) and women (RR 1·23, 95 % CI 1·15, 1·30). Similar results were observed in sensitivity analyses. CVAI and its 6-year change are positively associated with hypertension risk. CVAI has better performance in predicting hypertension than other visceral obesity indices for both sexes. The current findings suggest CVAI as a reliable and applicable predictor of hypertension in rural Chinese adults.