Lippi is tasked with setting China on the road to football greatness but there was no dream start for the Italian in his first game in charge.
Instead China remain rooted to the foot of Group A with two points from five games and scant hopes of reaching Russia 2018 even with Lippi, who coached Italy to the 2006 World Cup title.
A packed Kunming crowd came with high expectations but Qatar's Andres Quintana caused early panic before his attempt from a corner went wide.
Jiang Zhipeng's long-range free kick nearly caught Qatari goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb napping before Wu Lei also drove a fierce shot narrowly off-target.
China continued to carve out chances after the break and Qatar had Al Sheeb's instinctive save to thank when he tipped Wu Xi's diving header over the bar.
Subsitute Cao Yunding hit the side netting but China were unable to craft the breakthrough against 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, who stay second from bottom on five points.