Knowing the status and changes in forests is essential for evaluating biodiversity dynamics and making effective conservation action plans. It is also essential knowledge for public awareness and policy. However, before Hansen and his colleagues published the Global Forest Watch (GFW) data online in 2013, there were no datasets of forest distribution and changes publicly available in China. GFW data was produced using Landsat satellite images, grants free access to the general public to study forest changes at 30 m resolutions, and spans a period from 2000 to 2013. We interpreted this dataset and compared results with other datasets, including the National Forest Inventory, ChinaCover and GlobeLand30. Results show that GFW dataset has reliable accuracy, as its forest distribution highly overlaps with GlobeLand30, which has a producer accuracy of 87%, and a user accuracy of 89% within the forest category. With similar forest definitions of tree cover >20%, the total forest area is 1,780,472 km2 in the year 2000, similar to the National Forest Inventory’s forest area of 1,749,092 km2. While other datasets show forest increases between 2,370-433,810 km2 during 2000-2010, GFW identified a net forest loss of 37,551-42,031 km2 in China. 2008 is a turning point of forest loss, as the area of annual forest loss has a rising trend before, and a declining trend afterwards. The southern provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi and Yunnan have the most active forest changes. Forest coverage from nature reserves is insufficient, as by the end of 2013, 407 national level nature reserves, occupying more than 60% of China’s total nature reserve area, covered only 5.03% of total forest area. However, nature reserves have positive outcomes, with reduced forest loss (1.39%), compared to the national average rate (3.46%). This is equivalent to reducing deforestation by 1,856 km2, but there is still an overall net loss of 1,200 km2 inside nature reserves.