Avian influenza virus H9N2 has become the dominant subtype of influenza which is endemic in poultry. The hemagglutinin, one of eight protein-coding genes, plays an important role during the early stage of infection. The adaptive evolution and the positively selected sites of the HA (the glycoprotein molecule) of H9N2 subtype viruses were investigated. Investigating 68 hemagglutinin H9N2 avian influenza virus isolates in China and phylogenetic analysis, it was necessary that these isolates were distributed geographically from 1994, and were all derived from the Eurasian lineage. H9N2 avian influenza virus isolates from domestic poultry in China were distinct phylogenetically from those isolated in Hong Kong, including viruses which had infected humans. Seven amino acid substitutions (2T, 3T, 14T, 165D, 197A, 233Q, 380R) were identified in the HA possibly due to positive selection pressure. Apart from the 380R site, the other positively selected sites detected were all located near the receptor-binding site of the HA1 strain. Based on epidemiological and phylogenetics analysis, the H9N2 epidemic in China was divided into three groups: the 1994-1997 group, the 1998-1999 group, and the 2000-2007 group. By investigating these three groups using the maximum likelihood estimation method, there were more positive selective sites in the 1994-1997 and 1998-1999 epidemic group than the 2000-2007 groups. This indicates that those detected selected sites are changed during different epidemic periods and the evolution of H9N2 is currently slow. The antigenic determinant or other key functional amino acid sites should be of concern because their adjacent sites have been under positive selection pressure. The results provide further evidence that the pathogenic changes in the H9N2 subtype are due mainly to re-assortment with other highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses.