An extensive data set on net primary production (NPP) in China's forests is analysed with the help of two simple theoretically derived models based on the light use efficiency (LUE) and water use efficiency (WUE) concepts, respectively. The two models describe the data equally well, but their implied responses to [CO2] and temperature differ substantially. These responses are illustrated by sensitivity tests in which [CO2] is kept constant or doubled, temperatures are kept constant or increased by 3.5 K, and precipitation is changed by ±10%. Precipitation changes elicit similar responses in both models. But NPP in South China, especially, is reduced by warming in the LUE model, whereas it is increased in the WUE model. The [CO 2] response of the WUE model is much larger than that of the LUE model. It is argued that the two models provide upper and lower bounds for this response, with the LUE model more realistic for forests. The differences between the two models illustrate some potential causes of the large differences (even in sign) in the global NPP response of different global vegetation models to temperature and [CO2].