Purpose – Aims to review, update, and extend the understanding of country-of-origin (COO) effects in China. This involves examining the nature and extent of the COO effect amongst urban Chinese consumers and the impact of COO on actual purchase behaviour. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire is used to collect COO information from a sample of 432 Shanghai consumers and a consumer panel is used to track the purchase behaviour of the same consumers over 6 months. Findings – First, Chinese consumers generally say they prefer to buy local Chinese grocery brands. Second, Chinese consumers believe it is important to buy local brands for a range of Chinese-style and Western-style product categories. Third, however, the stated preference for Chinese brands was generally not reflected in actual purchase behaviour. Research limitations/implications – The results support the growing view that Chinese consumers are not necessarily attracted to foreign brands. However, the disparity between stated preferences and behaviour suggests that there are other factors that may moderate the COO effect, such as imperfect knowledge of which brands are local or foreign. Practical implications – To capitalize on the stated preference for local brands, and to address consumers’ imperfect knowledge of which brands are local or foreign, managers may benefit by promoting the Chinese origin of their brands and by positioning their brands as being local. Originality/value – In contrast to the experimental designs used in previous studies, actual purchase data is measured here in a real-life setting. The study provides a strong empirical update on the COO effect in China.