Abstract Thirty oil samples from the Shanganning, Jianghan and Chaidamu Basins in China have been examined by a number of geochemical techniques. The techniques included gas chromatography (GC), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and tandem mass spectrometry using a triple stage quadrupole mass spectrometer (MS/MS), stable isotope mass spectrometry. There were several reasons for undertaking this study. Firstly was the attempted oil-source rock correlation studies within the individual basins. Secondly was the continuing quest for novel, or sets of, biomarkers that could be assigned to saline and hypersaline environments and subsequently used to characterize other similar depositional environments. Thirdly was the desire to compare and contrast results obtained from these three basins with those from a similar study being undertaken on the South Florida Basin and the Anadarko Basin in the U.S.A. Whereas the Chinese basins are lacustrine, those in the U.S.A. are marine. For the purposes of this paper, only the results from the three Chinese basins will be discussed. In addition to examining the results from the biomarker distributions as determined by GC-MS and GC-MS/MS, the results are correlated with those obtained from the δ 13C isotropic determinations. For example, three oils in the Shanganning Basin showed anomalous isotopic data, which immediately suggested that they should be examined in greater detail than the remaining oils, all of which correlated quite closely with each other. A combination of results used in this way is far more valuable than the biomarker data alone. In summary, the results demonstrate that various families of oils in the three basins can be distinguished on the basis of geochemical data and in many cases on the basis of the carbon isotopic composition alone. The oils from the Shanganning Basin had the lightest values, around −32%, whereas the Chaidamu were the heaviest in the −26% region. The Jianghan oils had values intermediate to the other two basins. Variations in the isotopic composition appear to correlate with variations in salinity of the depositional environment as do a number of other biomarker parameters. In particular the relative concentrations of gammacerane, β-carotanes and tricyclic terpanes all increase as the relative salinity increases. Oils from within particular basins that had anomalous isotopic compositions could also be distinguished on the basis of their biomarker composition.