The objective of this study was to provide a single source for the best available estimates of the national prevalence of common rheumatic disorders and rheumatic disability by reviewing the epidemiological surveys conducted in China. Relevant publications were retrieved by search engines in both the English and the Chinese language web sites. Only community-based surveys conducted in China were included. A pooled prevalence with 95% confidence interval was calculated. Forty-one surveys met the inclusion criteria. Prevalence of rheumatic pain varied from 11.6 to 46.4%, with significantly higher rate in northern China in comparison to the southern part. Prevalence of rheumatic disability, however, did not increase with higher latitude. Limitation to daily life and work was 1-2 and 3-6%, of general population, respectively. The pooled prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and undifferentiated spondylarthropathy is 0.37, 0.22 and 0.57%, respectively. The estimated prevalence is 37.7/100,000 for systemic lupus erythematosus, and 0.45% for primary Sjögren's syndrome. In the past decade, prevalence of gout and hyperuricemia was 0.22-0.43 and 12.1-25.2%, respectively. In elderly Chinese age >or=60, prevalence of symptomatic cervical OA, lumbar OA, knee OA and hand OA was 14.5, 24.0, 19.4, and 5.0%, respectively. Symptomatic hip OA was rare. Rheumatoid arthritis and gout are less frequent in Chinese than in Caucasians. The prevalence of ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus and primary Sjögren's syndrome is comparable to that in Caucasians. In comparison to the whites, the Chinese population has a higher prevalence of knee OA, a lower prevalence of hand OA, and a much lower prevalence of hip OA.