We have surveyed the areal and stratigraphic distribution of tonsteins in Late Permian coalfields of southwestern China over an area of several hundred thousand square kilometers. We studied the relationship between tonstein distribution and sedimentary environment. Based on mineralogical and petrographic data, we have concluded that these tonsteins originated as air-fall volcanic ashes. Following accumulation in the peat swamps, in situ alteration of the vitric and lithic components took place under acidic conditions, leading to the formation of kaolinite. Based on petrologic, mineralogic, and chemical analytical data, we have determined that the application of mineralogic and geochemical criteria for tonsteins may be useful in correlating coal beds, predicting coal qualities and reconstructing related sedimentary paleoenvironmental conditions. ?? 1982.