Since the reform and opening up in 1978, human geography in China has experienced important developments. As a branch of human geography, rural geography has carried out a series of research on the rural regional system of human-environment relations. Taking the geography research articles published in the past 40 years in major Chinese journals of geography as the analysis object and using bibliometrics and literature summarization methods assisted by Citespace tools, this study identified the key research areas, divided the themes into stages, and summarized progress in the major research areas. The results show that under the background of globalization, urbanization, modernization, and informationization, as well as rural industrial structure adjustment and rural development policy change, great changes have taken place. From 1978 to 2000, rural geography mainly focused on the research themes of rural urbanization, urban-rural relations, village clusters, agricultural development, and rural economy. The academic community showed greater interest in urban than rural research, which has made fundamental and strategic contributions to the agricultural and rural development of the country and regions From 2000 to 2008, rural geography began to shift to topics such as rural tourism, rural settlements, new rural construction, village planning, and hollow village, and the development of the discipline gradually progressed. Since 2008, rural geography has shifted to more diverse topics, mainly including rural transformation, rural restructuring, rurality, rural governance, rural community, and spatial restructuring, which converge with rural geography research internationally. In the future, the research of rural geography in China should be based on the construction of theories and methods of rural geography and serve the rural vitalization strategy. More attention should be paid to the development, transformation, differentiation, restructuring, and governance of rural areas, deepening theoretical research on the value of diversified space in rural areas and developing a theoretical framework and research paradigm of rural geography with unique Chinese characteristics.