The Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study (GBCS, n=30 519, age >or=50 years) was established to examine the effects of genetic and environmental influences on health problems and chronic disease development. Guangzhou is undergoing massive economic development, but from a baseline that had remained unchanged for millennia. The Cardiovascular Disease Subcohort (GBCS-CVD) consists of 2000 participants who have been intensively phenotyped including a range of surrogate markers of vascular disease, including carotid artery intima-media thickness, cerebral artery stenoses, arterial stiffness, ankle-to-brachial blood pressure index and albuminuria, as well as coagulatory and inflammatory markers. Plasma and leukocytes are stored in liquid nitrogen for future studies. Preliminary demographic data show the female volunteers are younger than the male ones, but present with greater levels of adiposity including central obesity (31 vs 16%). Women had more body fat (33 vs 24%) and associated levels of adipokines. Despite this, body mass index and hip circumferences were similar, which contrasts with Caucasian populations. Men had more physician-diagnosed vascular disease (6.1 vs 2.5%), hypertension (42 vs 34%) and hyperglycaemia (36.6 vs 29.6%) than the women, but were less insulin resistant. In men, smoking (40 vs 2%) and drinking alcohol (67 vs 50%) was more common and they also had lower energy expenditures. The genotype distributions of the 15 typed single nucleotide polymorphisms were all in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. This article describes the rationale and methodology for the study. Given the comprehensive characterization of demographic and psychosocial determinants and biochemistry, the study provides a unique platform for multidisciplinary collaboration in a highly dynamic setting.