This paper aims to describe the development of laboratory animal science in China on the basis of historical evidence and recent national survey data, and to identify the problems facing the adoption of Three R alternatives. The authors undertook a national survey in 2006, by means of a questionnaire sent to 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, and also compared data from a variety of sources, including several national surveys and published papers. Laboratory animal science in China has developed rapidly over the past 30 years, as a result of a combination of economic, governmental and societal forces. More than 100,000 people work in the field of laboratory animal science, in 2,000 laboratory animal centres, institutes, universities, organisations, and companies. During the year of our survey, more than 19 million laboratory animals were produced from 320 licensed production facilities. Approximately 16 million laboratory animals were used in animal experiments, in 1530 facilities licensed for their use. The scale of the market for the supply and use of laboratory animals is huge, and thus it is very important to improve the level of adoption of these alternatives, in education, research and testing. For China, this presents a significant economic and technological opportunity in the field of biosciences research. The concept of the Three Rs first appeared in China in the 1980s, when the scale of laboratory animal sciences was starting to increase. In the 1990s, the Three Rs concept became commonly accepted among laboratory animal scientists, and began to appear in government documents. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Three Rs principles have become increasingly applied in our day-to-day work. But further time is still needed to achieve the full application of the Three Rs principles, especially the adoption of Three R alternatives. This paper describes the achievements in China relating to laboratory animal science, the use of Three R alternatives, and animal welfare, and shows that there is currently great potential for the adoption of alternatives. The information will help scientists and organisations around the world to gain better insight into the current state of laboratory animal science in China, and hopefully, will enable them to give advice on how we can improve the adoption of Three R alternatives in our country.