This study examines the 119 tropical cyclone (TC) formations in the South China Sea (SCS) during 1972-2002, and in particular the 20 in May and June. Eleven of these storms are associated with the weak baroclinic environment of a mei-yu front, while the remaining nine are nonfrontal. Seven of the 11 initial disturbances originated over land and have a highly similar evolution. Comparison of the frontal and nonfrontal formation shows that a nonfrontal formation usually occurs at a lower latitude, is more barotropic, develops faster, and possibly intensifies into a stronger TC. Six nonformation cases in the SCS are also identified that have similar low-level disturbances near the western end of a mei-yu front but did not develop further. In the nonformation cases, both the northeasterlies north of the front and the monsoonal southwesterlies are intermittent and weaker in magnitude so that the vorticity in the northern SCS does not spin up to tropical depression intensity. Because of the influence of a strong subtropical high, convection is suppressed in the SCS. The nonformation cases also have an average of 2-3 m s-1 larger vertical wind shear than the formation cases. A conceptual model is proposed for the typical frontal-type TC formations in the SCS that consists of three essential steps. First, an incipient low-level disturbance that originates over land moves eastward along the stationary mei-yu front. Second, the low-level circulation center with a relative vorticity maximum moves to the open ocean with the stationary front. Last, with strengthened northeasterlies, cyclonic shear vorticity continues to increase in the SCS, and after detaching from the stationary front, the system becomes a tropical depression.