OBJECTIVE: We investigated the ambulatory blood pressure (BP) in rural Chinese and compared its characteristics with those reported in other population-based studies. METHODS: We enrolled inhabitants from six villages of the JingNing County, China. We recorded the ambulatory BP using 90207 SpaceLabs monitors. Trained physicians measured the conventional BP at the participants' homes. Hypertension was defined as a conventional BP of >/=140/>/=90 mmHg or a condition requiring the intake of antihypertensive drugs. Using MEDLINE, we searched for population-based studies on ambulatory BP monitoring. RESULTS: The 356 participants (12-86 years) included 192 (53.9%) women and 117 (32.9%) hypertensive patients. In all participants, systolic/diastolic BP averaged 129/80 mmHg at home. The ambulatory BP means were 121/77 mmHg over 24 h, 126/81 mmHg during daytime (0800 to 1800 h) and 112/70 mmHg during night-time (2200 to 0400 h). The awake and asleep BPs averaged 126/82 and 112/70 mmHg, respectively. Using previously published definitions of daytime (1000 to 2000 h) and night-time (midnight to 0600 h) instead of those given above, inflated the BP differences with the awake and asleep BPs from 0.4/0.2 to 1.2/1.0 mmHg and from 0.3/0 to 1.4/1.6 mmHg, respectively. Compared with daytime values, conventional BP was 2.7/3.1 mmHg lower in normotensive individuals, but 14.9/1.3 mmHg higher in hypertensive patients. In our normotensive individuals, the whole-day and night-time diastolic BPs were from 1 to 4 mmHg and from 3 to 7 mmHg higher than in five other population studies in Caucasians or Japanese, whereas night-time BP in our participants was 9/5 mmHg lower than in Chinese living in Taiwan. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrated significant differences in the characteristics of the ambulatory blood pressure across Asian and Caucasian populations. To what extent different activity patterns and genetic and environmental factors explain this context-dependency remains to be clarified.