Abstract. Despite a large volume of research over a number of years, our understandings of the key precursors that control tropospheric ozone production and the impacts of heterogeneous processes remain incomplete. In this study, we analyze measurements of ozone and its precursors made at rural/suburban sites downwind of four large Chinese cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Lanzhou. At each site the same measurement techniques were utilized and a photochemical box model based on the Master Chemical Mechanism (v3.2) was applied, to minimize uncertainties in comparison of the results due to differences in methodology. All four cities suffered from severe ozone pollution. At the rural site of Beijing, export of the well-processed urban plumes contributed to the extremely high ozone levels (up to an hourly value of 286 ppbv), while the pollution observed at the suburban sites of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Lanzhou was characterized by intense in-situ ozone production. The major anthropogenic hydrocarbons were alkenes and aromatics in Beijing and Shanghai, aromatics in Guangzhou, and alkenes in Lanzhou. The ozone production was found to be in a VOCs-limited regime in both Shanghai and Guangzhou, and a mixed regime in Lanzhou. In Shanghai, the ozone formation was most sensitive to aromatics and alkenes, while in Guangzhou aromatics were the predominant ozone precursors. In Lanzhou, either controlling NOx or reducing emissions of olefins from the petrochemical industry would mitigate the local ozone production. The potential impacts of several heterogeneous processes on the ozone formation were assessed. The hydrolysis of dinitrogen pentoxide (N2O5), uptake of the hydroperoxyl radical (HO2) on particles, and surface reactions of NO2 forming nitrous acid (HONO) present considerable sources of uncertainty in the current studies of ozone chemistry. Further efforts are urgently required to better understand these processes and refine atmospheric models.