An understanding of the microsurgical anatomy of the arachnoid membranes and the subarachnoid cisterns is important in minimally invasive neurosurgery. But the topography of the arachnoid membranes has not been completely elucidated. The description of the distribution and the configuration of the intracranial arachnoid membranes is still a subject of controversy. In order to clarify this we examined eight Han Chinese adult human cadavers under an operating microscope. The dissections were performed with microsurgical instruments and techniques without staining of the intracranial structures nor injection of colored material into blood vessels. Twenty seven arachnoid membranes were identified. They were named according to their locations and attachment. They were divided into three groups: basal, convex and trabecular arachnoid membranes. They varied greatly in appearances and configurations. They were single-leaf structured except Liliequist's membrane, the chiasmatic membrane and the cerebellar precentral membrane. They were distributed extensively and unevenly and crisscrossed in the cranial cavity. The more complexly and intricately the blood vessels or the nerves converged or branched within the subarachnoid space, the more luxuriant and complex the arachnoid membranes and trabeculae were. The areas where the arachnoid membranes crowded most thickly in the subarachnoid space included the regions around the bifurcation of the internal carotid artery, the area around the hypothalamus, the interpeduncular cistern, the arachnoidal sheaths of the oculomotor nerve, the quadrigeminal cistern and the cisterna magna. Almost all the cranial nerves were encased by their own arachnoidal sheaths when they crossed the cisterns. The arachnoid membranes and trabeculae must be dissected or incised sharply during the operations. Thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the intracranial arachnoid membranes is valuable to take full advantage of the natural anatomic landmarks and interfaces formed by them during surgery.