Though a number of studies have focused on the factors that shape the structure and dynamics of temperate forests, little is known about whether these factors vary with spatial scale. In this study we investigated compositional and structural patterns of forests across three spatial scales (plot, local assemblages and regions) in northeast China and asked whether climatic variables shape these patterns. Using a systematic sampling design, we measured diameter at breast height (DBH) and height of trees, and recorded the abundances, percent of cover and heights of shrubs and herbs in 141 plots from 10 nature reserves. We found that summer temperature accounted for most of the variation in species composition, both within and among forest types. DBH, tree height and total basal area all increased significantly with summer temperature while stem density decreased. The DBH frequency distribution depended strongly on temperature (especially winter temperature) and varied among spatial scales, and it tended to be more left-skewed as temperature increased. Taking together, our results suggest that a warming climate could lead to an increase in tree growth and the changes in size structure of temperate forests in northeast China. In particular, the proportion of large trees will in all likelihood increase while that of smaller trees will decrease. Shifts in forest structure in a warmed world will undoubtedly influence forest management practices, ecosystem dynamics, and species conservation.