It is commonly believed that crustacean haemocytes originate from a specialised haematopoietic tissue (HPT), whereas the differentiation relationship between HPT cells and circulating haemocytes is still not clearly understood. The HPT cells and haemocytes of Fenneropenaeus chinensis were characterised using morphological and histochemical methods. Three types of HPT cells were identified under the transmission electron microscope (TEM). Type 1 cells had high N/C ratios, developed dispersed chromatins and no cytoplasmic granules. Type 2 cells had smaller size, developed condensed chromatins and cytoplasmic granules, which were homogeneous or striated in type 2a cells, and homogeneous in type 2b cells. We deduce that type 1 cells may give rise to type 2 cells in terms of the presence of possible intermediates between type 1 and type 2 cells. The circulating haemocytes were divided into three populations, i.e. hyaline haemocytes (HH), small granular haemocytes (SHG) and large granular haemocytes (LGH), based on Wright–Giemsa staining and TEM observation. Comparing the HPT cells with the circulating haemocytes, type 2a cells of HPT may represent the HH due to similar granule types, cell size and N/C ratios, and type 2b cells may be the young and immature LGH. By Wright–Giemsa and acid α-naphthyl acetate esterase staining, the intermediates between the HH and SGH were observed, which indicates that the SGH may be derived from the HH in the circulatory system. Therefore, it is suggested that the F. chinensis haemocytes could be divided into two haemocyte lineages, i.e. the HH-SGH and LGH lineage.