Net ecosystem productivity (NEP) was continuously measured using the eddy covariance (EC) technique from 2003 to 2005 at three forest sites of ChinaFLUX. The forests include Changbaishan temperate mixed forest (CBS), Qianyanzhou subtropical coniferous plantation (QYZ), and Dinghushan subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest (DHS). They span wide ranges of temperature and precipitation and are influenced by the eastern Asian monsoon climate to varying extent. In this study, we estimated ecosystem respiration (RE) and gross ecosystem productivity (GEP). Comparison of ecosystem carbon exchange among the three forests shows that RE was mainly determined by temperature, with the forest at CBS exhibiting the highest temperature sensitivity among the three ecosystems. The RE was highly dependent on GEP across the three forests, and the ratio of RE to GEP decreased along the North–South Transect of Eastern China (NSTEC) (i.e. from the CBS to the DHS), with an average of 0.77 ± 0.06. Daily GEP was mainly influenced by temperature at CBS, whereas photosynthetic photon flux density was the dominant factor affecting the daily GEP at both QYZ and DHS. Temperature mainly determined the pattern of the interannual variations of ecosystem carbon exchange at CBS. However, water availability primarily controlled the interannual variations of ecosystem carbon exchange at QYZ. At DHS, NEP attained the highest values at the beginning of the dry seasons (autumn) rather than the rainy seasons (summer), probably because insufficient radiation and frequent fog during the rainy seasons hindered canopy photosynthesis. All the three forest ecosystems acted as a carbon sink from 2003 to 2005. The annual average values of NEP at CBS, QYZ, and DHS were 259 ± 19, 354 ± 34, and 434 ± 66 g C m−2 yr−1, respectively. The slope of NEP that decreased with increasing latitude along the NSTEC was markedly different from that observed on the forest transect in the European continent. Long-term flux measurements over more forest ecosystems along the NSTEC will further help verify such a difference between the European forest transect and the NSTEC and provide insights into the responses of ecosystem carbon exchange to climate change in China.