Background:  The rates of preterm birth in Chinese women and the potential effects of differing environments are poorly understood.
Aim:  To determine the rate of preterm birth in Chinese women in China, Hong Kong and Western Australia.
Methods:  The rates of preterm birth were obtained from records of 26 611 pregnancies in Jiangsu Province in mainland China, 48 976 pregnancies in Hong Kong and 185 798 pregnancies in Western Australia.
Results:  Preterm birth rates increased from 2.6 and 2.9% in urban and rural Jiangsu Province, respectively, and 2.5% in China‐born women in Western Australia who required an interpreter; to 4.9% in China‐born women in Western Australia who did not require an interpreter; to 5.6% in non‐resident Chinese women in Hong Kong; and 7.6% for women resident in Hong Kong. Within Western Australia, the rate of preterm birth was significantly less in women who were born in China and declared themselves to be Chinese (4.4%) than Caucasians (7.8%), other women who declared themselves to be ‘Asian’ (8.7%) and women of Aboriginal heritage (14.5%).
Conclusions:  The rate of preterm birth in China is relatively low but appears to differ in Chinese women in other environments. Differences between traditional Chinese and contemporary Western lifestyles, possibly including smoking and sexual practices, may contribute to the different rates of preterm birth. Further research in this area may provide avenues for the prevention of preterm birth and also help to prevent a possible rise in this complication of pregnancy as Chinese society continues on the path of economic and social reform.