Abstract : Coal plays a vital role in the socio-economic development of China. Yet, the spatial mismatch between production centers (inland Northwest) and consumption centers (coastal region) within China fostered the emergence of dedicated coal transport corridors with limited alternatives. Serious problems of energy shortage and power rationing have already affected southeastern China. At the same time, enormous interregional coal transfers face a lack of transport capacity along the transport system. Based on first-hand statistics, a disaggregated analysis of coal distribution patterns since the late 1970s provides novel evidences about the local effects of macroscopic trends, such as the shift from dominant exports to dominant imports in terms of changing traffic concentration levels and distribution patterns among routes and ports. The spatial evolution of coal distribution is also discussed in terms of related industry linkages and local influences, coal trade policies and market pricing, port system evolution, and transport network planning. The paper also discusses possible improvements of the current situation through enhancing multimodal transport based on a review of current policies.