Using data from China's listed privately owned enterprises (POEs) during the period from 2002 to 2014, we explore the effects of firm life cycle on board structure. We find that the board size of China's listed POEs declines over firm life cycle, and there is a trend of separation for board chair-CEO duality while board independence remains almost static. We further provide evidence that board size and independence are determined by the benefits of monitoring and advisory roles of the boards through all the stages of firms’ life cycle with different drivers. The impact of CEO power on board chair-CEO duality is determined by the benefits and costs of separation of board chair, and CEOs are supported at all stages of firms’ life cycle. This article sheds light on the dynamic board structure in an emerging economy where the external corporate governance is weaker than that of developed countries. Our findings suggest that the board structures of China's listed POEs are adjusted at various stages of firms’ life cycle, and the adjustments are mostly based on the resources brought by the new board of directors.