AIMS: To systematically review trends in diabetes mellitus (DM) prevalence in adults in China over the last 10 years and to identify the determinants of these trends. METHODS: A systematic search was conducted for studies published between 2000 and 2010. Studies reporting DM prevalence were included if they met the pre-determined criteria. The prevalence estimates and reported determinants of these studies were compared. RESULTS: Twenty-five manuscripts, reporting on 22 studies, were selected for inclusion in the review. There has been an increase in DM prevalence from 2.6% to 9.7% in China over the past decade. DM prevalence is strongly associated with age and is higher in urban residents compared with rural populations. Some studies found a difference in DM prevalence between males and females, but this finding was not consistent. Other commonly reported associations with DM included family history, obesity and hypertension. CONCLUSION: Over the period of 2000-2010, we identify a significant increase in DM prevalence at the national level. It is important for all levels of government to develop more effective strategies to prevent and manage this rising diabetes epidemic. There is also an important need for more large-scale studies of diabetes in the western and central regions of China.