The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has grown into a central feature of the global carbon market. Besides a range of normative and evaluative research into the CDM, scholars have applied international relations perspectives in which the CDM has been analysed as an example of global governance, engaging multiple actors across administrative levels. This paper focuses on a national government and how its activities affect the CDM market. We draw on an empirical case study of China to demonstrate how governmental action can be understood in light of national institutional factors, defined as normative, cognitive or regulative elements. The paper describes and explains the extensiveness of Chinese government action regarding the CDM and discusses its consequences for the market. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.