Abstract The influence of a pre-oxidation process on the chemical properties of crushed bituminous coal and on adsorption properties of the subsequently formed char and activated carbon is discussed in this paper. Datong bituminous coal samples sized 6 mm were oxidized at different temperatures and for different times and then carbonized and activated by steam to obtain activated carbons. A Uniform Design method was used to arrange the experiments, IR and adsorption experiments were used to characterize these oxidized coals, chars and activated carbon samples. The results show that the carboxyl group disappeared and α-CH 2 groups joined to alkenes decreased dramatically but the carbonyl group clearly increased in the coal sample oxidized at 543 K; The chemical composition of coal samples oxidized at lower temperature is different from that of coal oxidized at 543 K. Oxidizing coal samples at higher temperatures for a short time or at lower temperatures for a longer time resulted in activated carbon samples that tended toward the same adsorption properties: Iodine number 1100 mg/g and Methylene blue value 252 mg/g. The yield of activated carbon obtained from the pre-oxidized coal is 10% higher than the yield from parent coal but the activated carbons have the same adsorption properties.