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The article examines more than 80 winners and finalists in the Innovations and Excellence in Chinese Local Governance (IECLG) awards programme between 2001 and 2008. Our results show the main types of innovation in the Chinese public sector to be management, service and collaborative innovation, although instances of technological and governance innovation are emerging. State and party agencies at the city and county levels in eastern China appear to be more innovative than their counterparts at other levels in central and western China. We identify several factors that affect innovation in China, and find the country to have some distinct innovation characteristics relative to other countries. Our analysis contributes to an understanding of the state of the art in public sector innovation in China and suggests directions for further international comparative research.