OBJECTIVE: To investigate the impact of cultural factors on quality of life (QOL) and to identify appropriate ways of dividing sub-populations for population norm-based quality of life assessment. METHODS: The WHOQOL-BREF was used as a QOL instrument. Another questionnaire was developed to assess cultural values. A cross-sectional survey was undertaken in 1090 Guangzhou residents, which included 635 respondents from communities and 455 patients who visited outpatient departments of hospitals. Cronbach's a coefficients and item-domain correlation coefficients were calculated to test the reliability and validity of the WHOQOL-BREF, respectively. Student t test, ANOVA and stepwise multiple linear regression analysis were performed to identify the variables that might have an impact on the QOL. Two regression models with and without including cultural variables were constructed, and the extent of impact exerted by the cultural factors was assessed through a comparison of the change of adjusted R square values. RESULTS: A total of 1052 (96%) valid questionnaire were returned. The Cronbach's alpha coefficients of the WHOQOL-BREF ranged from 0.67 to 0.78. Age, education, occupation and family income were correlated with all of the domains of the WHOQOL-BREF. Chronic condition was correlated with physical, psychological, and social relationship domains of the WHOQOL-BREF. Gender was correlated with physical and psychological domains of the WHOQOL-BREF. The multiple regression analysis showed that social and demographic factors contributed to 6.3%, 13.6%, 10.4% and 8.7% of the predicted variances for the physical, psychological, social relationship, and environment domains, respectively. Social support, horizontal collectivism, vertical individualism, escape acceptance, fear of death, health value, supernatural belief had a significant impact on QOL. However, social support was the only one factor that had an impact on all of the four QOL domains. CONCLUSION: It is necessary to divide sub-cultural populations for population norm-based QOL assessment. Further research is needed to develop a practical approach to the sub-cultural population division.