During the past 15 years, the global change and Earth system sciences have been extensively developed in China, with increasingly active participation of Chinese scientists in various international programs. Currently, the major international programs are entering their new phases (e.g. IGBP-II, IODP), and China is outlining its National Middle-to-Long Term Plan for Science and Technology Development, providing a need to review the status of the Earth system science in China and to reconsider its future direction. Regardless of the growing number of international publications by Chinese scientists, a trend of increasing lag of the Chinese behind international Earth system sciences studies appears to remain: Many "hot-spot" issues on the international frontiers have not yet been raised in China, and Chinese scientists are rarely involved in synthetic studies of international programs despite of their early-stage contributions. Consequently, the paper presents three suggestions as follows:(1) The time is ripe for Chinese Earth scientists to broaden their geographical scope and to attack scientific problems of global scale. The majority of Earth science studies in China may still focus on domestic issues, but a global view is needed when interpreting regional or local phenomena. Small groups should be encouraged to directly enter into global competition, working on oceanic or planetary issues. (2)To follow the international frontiers, China has to promote incorporation between Earth and life sciences at a molecular level. As the results of recent discovery of the "Deep Biosphere" under sea floor and of geochemical role of underground microbes, some core geoscience and bioscience concepts are being fundamentally revised. And the evolution of life is to be approached from an integration of paleontology, molecular biology, and geochemistry. (3) Chinese Earth science is to be promoted to shift from basically descriptive work to mechanism searching. We should not be satisfied with providing "raw material" export to the global science, but should be active in theoretical studies directed to key questions in the Earth system science. For this purpose, we need well-designed problem-oriented field and laboratory experiments, and hypothesis-testing numerical modeling, in addition to high-quality records of observations and analyses.