The Englishman famously came from eight shots back to claim last season's WGC-HSBC Champions and a week later was two behind after 54 holes before winning here at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort.
He entered the weekend at the sixth Rolex Series event of the season with a two-shot lead but a combination of a stunning 63 from Li Haotong and some uncharacteristic errors left the World Number Two three shots behind after a battling 69.
It is the seventh time in his career Rose has been second or joint second after 54 holes on the European Tour and he admitted he would not have been disappointed with the position on Thursday morning.
“Now I'll have an objective,” he said. “I can't change today so the position I'm in is the position I'm in. It's not a bad position.
“Of course, it could have been better. Going into tomorrow, I'm in a good spot.
“At the start of the week, you might have said, 'you know what? I'll chance my luck and take that and see how Sunday pans out'.”
A hat-trick of birdies from the fourth maintained Rose's two-shot lead in spite of Li's fast start but a three-putt on the seventh stalled his momentum.
He birdied the ninth to turn in 31 but found water for the second consecutive day on the tenth and did well to surrender just a single shot.
Back-to-back birdies followed but he made a bogey after finding sand on the 13th and did well to save par on the 15th after finding the water again.
He was then wet for a third time on the last to record a closing dropped shot and end an eventful 18 holes.