Lee Keun-Ho scored soon after half-time to sink Zambia 2-1 in a Seoul friendly after he had put South Korea ahead and Switzerland-based Emmanuel Mayuka levelled just before the half-hour mark.
CAF Champions League commitments and injuries meant Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) lacked five of the team that defeated Ivory Coast on penalties in Libreville last February to win a maiden African title.
It was the fourth friendly for the Zambians since that unexpected triumph and a second loss after a 1-0 reverse in Malawi. They defeated Zimbabwe 2-1 last week and drew 0-0 in Angola.
Coached by Frenchman Herve Renard, Zambia play Uganda at home in September and away in October with a place at the 2013 Cup of Nations in South Africa on the line.
Substitute Richmond Boakye-Yiadom from Italian club Juventus snatched a late goal to salvage a 1-1 draw for Ghana in Xi’an after Lin Gao had put China ahead from the penalty spot early in the second half.
Boakye-Yiadom had come on for fellow striker Emmanuel Clottey, who has been a revelation for unfancied Berekum Chelsea in the CAF Champions League, scoring 12 goals in nine matches.
China had a chance to regain the lead when awarded a second penalty five minutes from time but substitute goalkeeper Ernest Sowah saved the kick in his first appearance for the Black Stars.
Ghana, shock semi-finals losers to Zambia at the Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, have home advantage first over Malawi in another 2013 African qualifier.
Former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan, who ended a self-imposed international football exile triggered by public and media criticism after he had a penalty saved against Zambia, was an unused substitute.