Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 was first encountered in 1996 in Guangdong province (China) and started spreading throughout Asia and the western Palearctic in 2004–2006. Compared to several other countries where the HPAI H5N1 distribution has been studied in some detail, little is known about the environmental correlates of the HPAI H5N1 distribution in China. HPAI H5N1 clinical disease outbreaks, and HPAI virus (HPAIV) H5N1 isolated from active risk-based surveillance sampling of domestic poultry (referred to as HPAIV H5N1 surveillance positives in this manuscript) were modeled separately using seven risk variables: chicken, domestic waterfowl population density, proportion of land covered by rice or surface water, cropping intensity, elevation, and human population density. We used bootstrapped logistic regression and boosted regression trees (BRT) with cross-validation to identify the weight of each variable, to assess the predictive power of the models, and to map the distribution of HPAI H5N1 risk. HPAI H5N1 clinical disease outbreak occurrence in domestic poultry was mainly associated with chicken density, human population density, and elevation. In contrast, HPAIV H5N1 infection identified by risk-based surveillance was associated with domestic waterfowl density, human population density, and the proportion of land covered by surface water. Both models had a high explanatory power (mean AUC ranging from 0.864 to 0.967). The map of HPAIV H5N1 risk distribution based on active surveillance data emphasized areas south of the Yangtze River, while the distribution of reported outbreak risk extended further North, where the density of poultry and humans is higher. We quantified the statistical association between HPAI H5N1 outbreak, HPAIV distribution and post-vaccination levels of seropositivity (percentage of effective post-vaccination seroconversion in vaccinated birds) and found that provinces with either outbreaks or HPAIV H5N1 surveillance positives in 2007–2009 appeared to have had lower antibody response to vaccination. The distribution of HPAI H5N1 risk in China appears more limited geographically than previously assessed, offering prospects for better targeted surveillance and control interventions.