© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Marine zoning and planning are cornerstones of China's marine and coastal management, but are facing challenges in maintaining sustainable development with increasing resource use. Marine functional zoning (MFZ) and marine environmental functional zoning (MEFZ) are existing official Chinese regulations possessing legal force. In contrast, the Marine ecological red line (MERL) refers to a type of marine spatial planning aimed at ecological protection which has been promoted following a 2011 decision of the Chinese State Council to strengthen environmental protection. It has been partially implemented within China, but has only gained legal status in late 2014 and implementation in 2015. The paper compares the two kinds of marine spatial planning providing a general overview, an example in the Bohai Sea, and discussing the marine functional zone and marine ecological red line approaches. The legal status, spatial layout, and control of the systems are compared. The comparison shows that the marine ecological red line has the potential to supplement and strengthen the current marine functional zoning system, and that further improvement should come from recent legal developments. Management will require more ecological information to improve the technical aspects of the MERL approach to enable further MFZ and MERL integration.