Groundwater quality with respect to nitrate, major inorganic constituents, stable isotopes, and tritium was assessed in the agricultural Tangshan region in the Hai He River Basin of the People's Republic of China and compared with three regions in the U.S.: the Delmarva Peninsula of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia; the San Joaquin Valley of California; and the Sacramento Valley of California. The China and U.S. regions are similar in size and land use, but have different climatic conditions and patterns of water use for irrigation. The Tangshan region has been in agricultural production for a much longer time, probably several centuries, than the three U.S. regions; however, the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and other soil amendments probably started at a similar time in all four regions. In all four regions, median nitrate concentrations were generally below the U.S. drinking water standard of 10 mg/l of nitrate as nitrogen. However, higher concentrations and a greater range were evident for the Tangshan region. In the water samples collected from a shallow aquifer in the Tangshan region (over 25% of all samples), nitrate concentrations exceeded the Chinese standard of 20 mg/l, whereas few comparative samples (2.6%) collected in the U.S. exceeded 20 mg/l. In Tangshan, relatively low nitrate, which is indicative of uncontaminated background concentrations, was measured in older water of deeper wells. Recently recharged water was detected in wells drilled as deep as 150 m. Nitrate concentrations above background levels were also measured in water samples from these wells. In addition to nitrate, the agricultural area of the Tangshan region has been affected by elevated total dissolved solids and iron, the latter attributed to widespread application of animal wastes and sewage deposited on the land surface, which lead to oxygen depletion in the subsurface environment and dissolution of iron. The elevated total dissolved solids of the Tangshan study area could not be attributed to any one process.