The present study aimed to determine whether artesunate has beneficial effects on bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in rats and to examine the possible mechanisms underlying these effects. All experiments were performed with male Sprague Dawley rats weighing 180-250 g. Animals were randomly divided into four experimental groups that were administered either saline alone, artesunate alone, bleomycin alone or bleomycin + artesunate. Lung histopathology was investigated by hematoxylin and eosin staining and Masson staining. Lung profibrotic molecules were analyzed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. In rats treated with artesunate, pulmonary fibrosis induced by bleomycin was significantly reduced. Administration of artesunate significantly improved bleomycin-induced morphological alterations. Profibrotic molecules, including transforming growth factor-β1, Smad3, heat shock protein 47, α-smooth muscle actin and collagen type I were also reduced by artesunate. These findings suggest that artesunate improves bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis pathology in rats possibly by inhibiting profibrotic molecules associated with pulmonary fibrosis.