Aims. This paper reviews the role of cardiac nursing in China and the potential of this professional group to take an important role in secondary and tertiary prevention initiatives. Background. China is undergoing unprecedented economic growth, yet globalisation of Chinese society has caused an increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions, particularly cardiovascular disease. Studies recognise that health providers and members of the public are not fully aware of the risks associated with cardiovascular disease and consequently are not equipped to deal with this looming epidemic. Design. Position paper. Method. This position paper summarises and discusses the burden of cardiovascular disease in China within the context of evidence for nurse-coordinated interventions. Barriers and facilitators to developing the nursing role in contemporary China are discussed. Conclusions. A key strategy for promoting the role of nurse-led programmes in China is increasing research skills among Chinese nurses to promote independent, collaborative interdisciplinary research. Promoting doctoral education in China, increasing the status of nursing in interdisciplinary teams, collaborating with cardiovascular nurses internationally and increasing the public's awareness of cardiovascular disease are critical steps in promoting nurse-led programmes to improve the health and well-being of the community. Relevance to clinical practice. Given the positive relationship between knowledge and skill levels of nurses and clinical outcomes, China's investment in the education and training of its nursing workforce is critical in improving practice and outcomes in cardiovascular disease. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.