Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) has been recommended as an optional method for diagnosing diabetes. The impact of HbA1c on the diagnosis of diabetes has not been evaluated in China, a country with the greatest number of people with diabetes in the world. Hence, we aim to examine how well HbA1c performs as compared with fasting plasma glucose (FPG) for diagnosing diabetes in Chinese population. We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 7,641 Chinese men and women aged ≥18 years using data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey 2009 in which FPG and standardized HbA1c were measured. HbA1c was measured with high-performance liquid chromatography system. Diabetes is defined as having FPG ≥7 mmol/l or HbA1c ≥6.5 %. Overall, 5.0 and 5.8 % had undiagnosed diabetes by FPG ≥7 mmol/l and HbA1c ≥6.5 %, respectively. Overlap between HbA1c- and FPG-based diagnosis of diabetes was limited (n = 214, 34.9 %). Similar trends were noted in both genders, all age groups, urban/rural settings, regions, body mass index (BMI) categories, waist circumference (WC) groups, and blood pressure status. Solely HbA1c-defined individuals exhibited higher levels of BMI, WC, total cholesterol, and hypersensitive C-reactive protein and lower levels of homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance. We note limited overlap between FPG- and HbA1c-based diagnosis of diabetes. The limited overlap between FPG- and HbA1c-based diagnosis of diabetes persisted in each evaluated subgroup. HbA1c criterion for the diagnosis of diabetes identifies individuals with a worse cardiovascular risk profile compared with FPG.