This paper evaluates the taxonomy, biostratigraphy, and palaeogeographical significance of the Cambrian bradoriid arthropods of China, the majority of which occur in the lower Cambrian of SW China. Of bradoriid faunas world-wide, Chinese occurrences yield the greatest number of specimens and a comparatively high diversity at all taxonomic levels. Nevertheless, taxonomic diversity is much less than previously supposed. Some 80 bradoriid genera and nearly 300 species have been proposed on the basis of Chinese material. By contrast, in our study, which encompasses all of the important Chinese bradoriid faunas, we recognise only 16 genera and 21 species, including those treated under open nomenclature. Interpretation of deformed specimens as discrete species and lack of application of the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature resulted in taxonomic splitting and a proliferation of names. There are an additional 12 poorly known monotypic genera of uncertain systematic status that are listed but not treated further herein. One phosphatocopid species, a group originally thought closely related to the Bradoriida, is also described.
Most Chinese bradoriid material is known from Yunnan Province; the group also occurs in Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Liaoning, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Zhejiang provinces. The first bradoriids occur just below the Abadiella trilobite Biozone. They are most prolific and diverse in the Qiongzhusian Stage, constituting the most abundant animal group; the succeeding Canglangpuian Stage contains fewer individuals and species. A previously proposed bradoriid biozonal scheme lacks rigour and is of little practical value: of the five supposed biozones, two correspond to trilobite zones and three are based on taxa that herein are considered to belong to a single species.
Palaeogeographically the bradoriids occur in the Middle and especially the Western subprovinces of the Cambrian of the SW China (Yangtze) Platform. Almost all of the bradoriid genera and species are endemic to that region. The palaeogeographical links with other bradoriid faunas are mostly within the Redlichiid trilobite Realm, with areas such as N China, Australia and parts of central Asia.