This study explores the history of the illegal production, distribution, and smuggling of cigarettes in mainland China. Data were obtained from a content analysis of 931 media reports retrieved from LexisNexis for the time period 1975 until 2010, and from other open sources. The illegal cigarette trade first emerged in the form of violations of state tobacco monopoly regulations. In the course of the restructuring of the legal tobacco sector, which occurred under external political pressure to open the Chinese market to foreign competition, an illegal cigarette industry emerged which at first primarily produced fake Chinese brand cigarettes for the domestic black market. At the same time, China became a destination country for smuggled genuine Western brand cigarettes. It was only after effective crackdowns against cigarette smuggling and domestic distribution channels in the late 1990s that the Chinese illegal cigarette industry shifted to exporting large numbers of counterfeit Western brand cigarettes to black markets abroad. China’s current role as a leading supplier of counterfeit cigarettes is a result of the contradictions of the economic reform process and of external licit and illicit forces that worked toward opening up the Chinese tobacco sector to the outside world.