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My wife and I plan to travel to China in May 2012. Our Canadian passports expire July 27 2012. We are informed that we require a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the length of stay in China. Is it possible for us to renew our passports early (say three months) so that we have the renewed passports in time for our trip?

You are correct to say you require 6 months validity on your passport before traveling to China. You must also be in possession of a visa.
You would be able to apply for a new passport, as your current passport has less than 12 months validity remaining.
To make the process easier you may be eligible for the ‘simplified Renewal Passport Application? (PPTC 054). The application form is shorter and no guarantor declaration is necessary. Unlike the general application process, applicants applying through the Simplified Renewal Process do not need to submit proof of Canadian citizenship (birth certificate, citizenship card, etc.) or provide supporting identification.

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