Structure and demographics in many tropical forests is changing, but the causes of these changes remain unclear. We studied 5 y (2005–2010) of species turnover, recruitment, mortality and population change data from a 20-ha subtropical forest plot in Dinghushan, China, to identify trends in forest change, and to test whether tree mortality is associated with intraspecific or interspecific competition. We found the Dinghushan forest to be more dynamic than one temperate and two tropical forests in a comparison of large, long-term forest dynamics plots. Within Dinghushan, size-class distributions were bell-shaped only for the three most dominant species and reverse J-shaped for other species. Bell-shaped population distributions can indicate a population in decline, but our data suggest that these large and long-lived species are not in decline because the pattern is driven by increasing probabilities of transition to larger size class with increasing size and fast growth in saplings. Spatially aggregated tree species distributions were common for surviving and dead individuals. Competitive associations were more frequently intraspecific than interspecific. The competition that induced tree mortality was more associated with intraspecific than interspecific interactions. Intraspecific competitive exclusion and density-dependence appear to play important roles in tree mortality in this subtropical forest.