Two population-based cross-sectional surveys involving randomly selected Chinese adults aged 35–74 years were conducted in Qingdao, China in 2006 and 2009. Nine thousand fifty-five subjects from the two surveys were grouped into four birth groups of fetal/infant exposed (born between 1 January 1959 and 31 December 1962), childhood exposed (born between 1 January 1950 and 31 December 1958), adolescence exposed (born between 1 January 1942 and 31 December 1949) and the unexposed (born before 1941 and after 1963). Multivariate logistic regression models were used to calculate the OR and 95 % CI of hyperuricaemia in different exposed groups. Overall, famine exposure in the fetal/infant period, childhood and adolescence was not associated with adulthood hyperuricaemia (all P > 0·05). In females, childhood exposed group (OR = 1·59, 95 % CI 1·25, 2·02) and adolescence exposed group (OR = 1·74, 95 % CI 1·30, 2·33) both had higher risks to have hyperuricaemia in adult. However, this difference was not found in fetal/infant exposed group. In males, no significant relation was observed in any famine exposed group (all P > 0·05). Exposure to famine in childhood and adolescence is associated with an increased risk of hyperuricaemia for adulthood of females, but not in males. Adequate nutrition during early life appears to be beneficial to prevent hyperuricaemia of adult females.