Clozapine has been shown to have superior effectiveness compared with classic neuroleptics in treating refractory schizophrenia in Caucasians, but its efficacy and safety in Chinese have not been adequately studied. Forty Chinese schizophrenic patients were recruited in a 12-week, double-blind, comparative trial. Twenty-one patients were randomly assigned to clozapine treatment and 19 to chlorpromazine treatment. The average dose was 543 +/- 157 and 1163 +/- 228 mg/day for clozapine and chlorpromazine, respectively. The results showed that six clozapine-treated patients (28.6%) had more than 20% improvement in Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale score and were classified as responders, whereas none of the chlorpromazine-treated patients was classified as a responder. The degree of improvement in positive symptoms, negative symptoms and Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale scores in the clozapine group was inversely correlated with the severity of negative symptoms at entry into the trial. Two clozapine-treated patients were withdrawn from the study, one because of leukopenia and nausea, and the other because of vomiting and hypotension. Chlorpromazine treatment was prematurely discontinued in two patients, because of jaundice and over sedation in one, and because of severe weight loss in the other (9 kg). The rate of moderate-to-severe sialorrhea was high in clozapine-treated patients (28.6%). Two clozapine-treated patients and two chlorpromazine-treated patients showed significant improvement in previously existing tardive dyskinesia and one chlorpromazine-treated patient exhibited aggravation of tardive dyskinesia. The results of this study indicate that clozapine treatment might have advantages over chlorpromazine for Chinese schizophrenic patients who are refractory to typical neuroleptic treatment.