Aim: Substantial overlap in the climate characteristics of the United States and China results in similar land-cover types and weather conditions, especially in the eastern half of the two countries. These parallels suggest similarities in fire regimes as well, yet relatively little is known about the historical role of fire in Chinese ecosystems. Consequently, we aimed to infer fire regime characteristics for China based on our understanding of climate-fire relationships in the United States. Location: The conterminous United States and the People's Republic of China. Methods: We used generalized additive models to quantify the relationship between reference fire regime classes adopted by the LANDFIRE initiative in the United States, and a global climate data set. With the models, we determined which climate variables best described the distribution of fire regimes in the United States then used these models to predict the spatial distribution of fire regimes in China. The fitted models were validated quantitatively using receiver operating characteristic area under the curve (AUC). We validated the predicted fire regimes in China by comparison with palaeoecological fire data and satellite-derived estimates of current fire activity. Results: Quantitative validation using the AUC indicated good discrimination of the distribution of fire regimes by models for the United States. Overall, fire regimes with more frequent return intervals were more likely in the east than in the west. The resolution of available historical and prehistorical fire data for China, including sediment cores, allowed only coarse, qualitative validation, but provided supporting evidence that fire has long been a part of ecosystem function in eastern China. MODIS satellite data illustrated that fire frequency within the last decade supported the classification of much of western China as relatively fire-free; however, much of south-eastern China experiences more fire activity than predicted with our models, probably as a function of the extensive use of fire by people. Conclusions: While acknowledging there are many cultural, environmental and historical differences between the United States and China, our fire regime models based on climate data demonstrate potential historical fire regimes for China, and propose that large areas of China share historical fire-vegetation-climate complexes with the United States.