Background It is well known that the prevalence of asthma has been reported to increase in many places around the world during the last decades. Therefore, the aim of this study was to identify and review studies of asthma prevalence among children in China and address time trends and regional variation in asthma. Methods A systematic literature search was performed using PubMed and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) databases. Selected articles had to describe an original study that showed the prevalence of asthma among children aged 0−14 years. Results A total of 74 articles met the inclusion criteria. The lifetime prevalence of asthma varied between 1.1% in Lhasa (Tibet) and 11.0% in Hong Kong in studies following the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) protocol. The prevalence was 3% or lower in most articles following Chinese diagnostic criteria. One article reported the results from two national surveys and showed that the current average prevalence of asthma for the total study population had increased from 1990 to 2000 (0.9% to 1.5%). The lowest current prevalence was found in Lhasa (0.1% in 1990, 0.5% in 2000). Conclusions The prevalence of childhood asthma was generally low, both in studies following the ISAAC and Chinese diagnostic criteria. Assessment of time trends and regional variations in asthma prevalence was difficult due to insufficient data, variation in diagnostic criteria, difference in data collection methods, and uncertainty in prevalence measures. However, the findings from one large study of children from 27 different cities support an increase in current prevalence of childhood asthma from 1990 to 2000. The lowest current prevalence of childhood asthma was found in Tibet.