The epidemiology and phenotype of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the Chinese population is not well-known. We performed a comprehensive search of the Chinese biomedical literature database from 1989 to 2007 using the following key words: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease (CD). The investigation of hospitalized IBD patients from 1990 to 2003 was also carried out in 23 medical centers of 11 cities over China. There are some notable epidemiological and phenotypical differences between Chinese IBD and Caucasian IBD, including a lack of familial clustering, male predominance, a relatively later onset of the illness with no second peak age occurrence after 50 years old, a milder clinical course, less extra-intestinal manifestations and complications, and less fistulous and peri-anal complications in Chinese CD. The data indicate an increased incidence of IBD in China with many complicated clinical problems, which offers potential opportunities to study the disease prospectively and identify the etiological factors, leading also to the better management of this disease in China.