China is on U.S. Highway 90 ten miles west of Beaumont in northwestern Jefferson County. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad was completed through the area in 1860, and a water stop was established amidst a grove of chinaberry trees near the community's present location; the stop was dubbed China Grove. A post office by that name was authorized in March 1887 but was discontinued within two months. Another office, using the shorter name China, was established in 1893.
Two miles east of China, Charlie Nash and Howell Land organized a separate community called Nashland, which had 174 residents in 1900. The new townsite plat was belatedly filed on October 30, 1902. When fire destroyed the older China depot to the west in 1906, the people of Nashland convinced railroad officials to move operations to the more populated community center. The railroad, however, stipulated that the new depot retain the name of China. The Nashland post office, established in 1900, was therefore renamed China.
Agriculture provided the community with its economic lifeblood, and rice warehouses made it a center for the area's rice farmers. The South China oilfield, discovered in 1939, provided further growth. Although the community's population fell from an estimated 350 during the mid-1920s to 200 by the early 1950s, new discoveries of oil and natural gas at nearby oilfields in 1960, 1975, and 1980 brought new growth. In 1971 residents voted 118 to 88 in favor of incorporation. By the mid-1980s China had a population of 1,351 and eighteen businesses. In 1990 the population was 1,144, and in 2000 it was 1,112.