Half of the global increase in tobacco use from 1976 to 1986 occurred in the People's Republic of China. In 1984, the first national smoking survey was conducted in China, involving over a half-million subjects. Sixty-one percent of Chinese males over age 15 smoke, with higher rates in all occupational groups than for corresponding groups in the United States. Current smoking patterns in China are similar to those in the United States during the 1950s, and these patterns forecast a steadily increasing epidemic of smoking-related deaths. It is estimated that by 2025, two million Chinese men will die annually from smoking. Foreign tobacco companies are mounting massive production and advertising campaigns in China. Government health education programs lack funds to counter these influences with sustained and comprehensive educational and interventional campaigns. To avert an impending national health catastrophe, China must launch a comprehensive smoking-control initiative aimed at public education, cessation, and legislation and policy.