Paleoclimatic research can provide critical insight on causes of change in the East Asian monsoon, which influences the lives of 1.6 billion people today. In this study, we use paleoclimatic indexes from Chinese loess deposits, which have clear climatic implications and are independently dated, to reconstruct the monsoon precipitation since 21 ka. Our results show that monsoon precipitation persistently decreased from 21 ka to ca. 8 ka, and increased after ca. 8 ka, with a precipitation peak at 8–3 ka. These changes in East Asian summer monsoon precipitation are synchronous with changes in high-northern-latitude ice volume/ice cover and atmospheric CO2. These new data suggest that variation of the monsoon precipitation was probably driven by CO2-forced high-northern-latitude temperature changes, shifting the location of the intertropical convergence zone that dominates monsoon precipitation. Our TraCE-21000 modeling experiment supports this interpretation.