China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015) announces a shift to a new development model and a new green governance approach. Can we indeed identify a specific Chinese transition mode in moving from a monolithic economic growth path to a sincere green development model? To understand China's environmental management transition and address this question we assess whether and to what extent China has been shifting course in resource use and limiting environmental pollution. This review paper provides a comprehensive overview of the development of environmental management in China based on existing sources of information. Four major environmental challenges are identified for the future environmental management of the biggest emerging economy in the world.