For a long time, China has been focusing primarily on pursuing economic growth, with less concern about social and environmental development issues. This may make China's development unsustainable. In contrast to its current economic-oriented approach predominated by economic growth, this research note presents a newly proposed approach of ‘major function-oriented zone’ (MFOZ) that is designed by our research team and is largely accepted by the central government and incorporated into its 12th Five-Year Plan. This approach tries to rationalise China's regional development and insists that each region should have its unique functions to perform, determined by its own characteristics, conditions and requirements. With this approach, the central government is able to monitor and coordinate regional and local developments, and hence the ‘Planning of MFOZ’ is seen by the central government as a tool to steer spatial arrangements for the country's long-turn sustainable development.