This study reviewed 333 articles on China's tourism from 96 English-language academic journals within and outside of tourism from 1978 to 2012. Tourism policy and impacts, and tourism industry development and promotion were the two predominant research themes. Tourism development, policy, ecological impacts, attractions and markets were the five most popular topics. On the basis of an authorship relationship analysis, three research networks were producing most of the China tourism research output in English. A majority of the authors were based in Mainland China, the USA and Hong Kong. Trends and gaps in the literature on China's tourism were identified. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.