Performance of a regional climate model (RCM), WRF, for downscaling East Asian summer season climate is investigated based on 11-summer integrations associated with different climate conditions with reanalysis data as the lateral boundary conditions. It is found that while the RCM is essentially unable to improve large-scale circulation patterns in the upper troposphere for most years, it is able to simulate better lower-level meridional moisture transport in the East Asian summer monsoon. For precipitation downscaling, the RCM produces more realistic magnitude of the interannual variation in most areas of East Asia than that in the reanalysis. Furthermore, the RCM significantly improves the spatial pattern of summer rainfall over dry inland areas and mountainous areas, such as Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau. Meanwhile, it reduces the wet bias over southeast China. Over Mongolia, however, the performance of precipitation downscaling strongly depends on the year: the WRF is skillful for normal and wet years, but not for dry years, which suggests that land surface processes play an important role in downscaling ability. Over the dry area of North China, the WRF shows the worst performance. Additional sensitivity experiments testing land effects in downscaling suggest the initial soil moisture condition and representation of land surface processes with different schemes are sources of uncertainty for precipitation downscaling. Correction of initial soil moisture using the climatology dataset from GSWP-2 is a useful approach to robustly reducing wet bias in inland areas as well as to improve spatial distribution of precipitation. Despite the improvement on RCM downscaling, regional analyses reveal that accurate simulation of precipitation over East China, where the precipitation pattern is strongly influenced by the activity of the Meiyu/Baiu rainfall band, is difficult. Since the location of the rainfall band is closely associated with both lower-level meridional moisture transport and upper-level circulation structures, it is necessary to have realistic upper-air circulation patterns in the RCM as well as lower-level moisture transport in order to improve the circulation-associated convective rainfall band in East Asia. © 2012 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.