The occurrence of antibiotics in China's surface waters is an emerging concern. While the ecological risk assessment for a couple of antibiotics is available in some regions, no attempt has been made to assess their risks at a national scale. The present work therefore proposed a probabilistic based approach to characterize the ecological risks of 26 major use antibiotics, including sulfonamides, tetracyclines, beta-lactams, fluoroquinolones, and macrolides, in China's surface waters. Initially we performed exposure and hazard assessment for these substances, respectively, by synthesizing and interpreting the available occurrence and ecotoxicity data. For 22 antibiotics with sufficient ecotoxicity data, their risks were assessed by constructing joint probability curves (JPCs), from which their expected ecological risk (EER) estimates were less than 1%; for all the 26 antibiotics, in conjunction with the exposure distribution curves (EDCs), an assessment factor (AF) approach was applied and the potential risks was merely detected for amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, and penicillin with risk quotients (RQs) of 1.04, 1.54, and 5.83, respectively. These results indicated that the ecological risks of the most major use antibiotics posed to nontarget organisms in China's aquatic environment seem to be low. Nevertheless, there are large uncertainties in the risk characterization processes likely because of the significant data gaps in the understanding of exposure and hazards of these antibiotics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.