A glacier system is regarded as the ensemble of many glaciers sharing the same region, influenced by a similar climate and organized by certain intrinsic laws. It can be either ‘sensitive’ or ‘steady’. On the basis of the structure of the glacier system and the nature of the equilibrium-line altitudes at the steady state, functional models of a glacier system responding to climate warming were established, using the Kotlyakov–Krenke equation relating annual glacier ablation and mean summer temperature and the glacier system’s median size. The modeling results under the climatic scenarios with a rate of temperature increase of 0.01, 0.03 and 0.05 K a-1 indicate that by the end of this century the glacial area of China will be reduced by –14%, –40%and –60% respectively. However, model results show distinct differences between the sensitive glacier system and the steady glacier system.