Anaemia is prevalent in developing countries and is commonly Fe deficiency related. We aimed to assess the association between Fe status, Fe intake and mortality among Chinese adults. We prospectively studied 8291 adults aged 20–98 years with a mean follow-up of 9·9 years. All participants were measured for Hb at baseline in 2002. Food intake, measured by 3-d weighed food record (n 2832), and fasting serum ferritin were measured. We documented 491 deaths (including 192 CVD and 165 cancer deaths) during 81 527 person-years of follow-up. There was a U-shaped association between Hb levels and all-cause mortality. Compared with the second quartile of Hb (121 g/l), the first (105) and fourth quartile (144) had hazard ratios (HR) of 2·29 (95 % CI 1·51, 3·48) and 2·31 (95 % CI 1·46, 3·64) for all-cause mortality in women. In men, compared with third quartile of Hb (143 g/l), first (122) and fourth quartiles (154) had 61 and 65 % increased risk of all-cause mortality. Anaemia was associated with an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality in men but not in women after adjusting for potential confounders. Low and high Fe intake as percentage of Chinese recommended nutrient intake (RNI) were positively associated with all-cause mortality in women but not in men. In women, across quartiles of relative Fe intake, HR for all-cause mortality were 2·55 (95 % CI 0·99, 6·57), 1·00, 3·12 (95 % CI 1·35, 7·18) and 2·78 (95 % CI 1·02, 7·58). Both low and high Hb levels are related to increased risk of all-cause mortality. Both low and high intake of Fe as percentage of RNI was positively associated with mortality in women.