Municipal solid waste (MSW) severely threatens human health and the ecological environment owing to its toxicity, mutagenic activity and carcinogenicity. The continuous increase in MSW together with stringent regulations makes sanitary disposal imperative. Waste sorting and recycling has been recognized as an efficient and economical treatment strategy. By analysing research data from 31 provinces between 2000 and 2017, the overarching goal of this work was to determine the characterizations and the compositions of MSW in China and then provide advices for sorting, transporting, storing and disposing of MSW. The results showed that the amount of MSW that was generated ranged from 0.08 to 2.34 kg d(-1) ca(-1) and averaged 0.73 kg d(-1) ca(-1) in China. The average bulk density, moisture content and the wet basis of the low calorific value of the MSW were 325 kg m(-3), 50.3% and 4649 kcal kg(-1). The MSW in China could be classified into four main categories, food waste, recycling waste, landfill waste and hazardous substances, and could be further classified into ten sub-categories. Overall, food waste was the most common and could be best managed via compost production. Bulk density was highly positively correlated with the ratio of the dust and bricks in all MSW and highly negatively correlated with the ratio of the food waste, metal, glass, plastic and rubber. The wet basis of the low calorific value was highly positively correlated with the ratio of the plastic and rubber, and the water content was highly positively correlated with the ratio of the food waste. Temporally, most of the components, especially waste paper and plastics, increased, while wood, dust and bricks decreased.