Air pollution in China, especially in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region, has drastically increased in recent years. We modelled annual mean ground-level PM2.5 concentrations based on worldwide satellite information and meteorological data from 40 cities outside the PRD. The model of PM2.5 concentration (R = 0.845) was best explained by aerosol optical thickness (43.8%). We validated the spatial-temporal dimensions of the model and estimated that the annual mean PM2.5 concentration in PRD ranged between 22 and 65 μg m(-3). Then we used meta-analysis to obtain the pooled excess risks of mortality in China and assessed the health impacts. We found an inverse association between short-term excess risks of mortality and annual mean PM2.5 concentrations. Based on the above models and analyses, the associated excess deaths for all-cause and cardiopulmonary diseases were 3386 and 2639 respectively. The corresponding risk-standardized excess death rates were 2006 and 1069 per million people.