Purpose – This exploratory research aims to utilize a unique dataset obtained from the China Project of “Global University Entrepreneurial Spirits Students Survey” (GUESSS) to assess Chinese students' career choice intentions in general and entrepreneurial intention in particular, the dynamics of changes in career choice intentions, and impacts of career motives, university environment and perceived barriers. Design/methodology/approach – The research followed the survey instrument and protocol designed by the organizer of the international GUESSS project. The sample in the dataset contains data of about 850 students who participated in China and 450 overseas Chinese students who participated in other countries in the international GUESSS project. Findings – The most preferred career choice option for Chinese students right after leaving university is to work in a large company and their intention to start an own company is low. However, in five years after graduation, founding an own company is identified as the most preferred option. The change appears to be primarily associated with students' perception of own maturity, confidence and improved financial position. Practical implications – The results indicate that the support of graduate entrepreneurship at universities shows first positive impacts, the entrepreneurship programs however still need to be extended to bridge the gap to realization. The insights into Chinese students' entrepreneurial intention are therefore of great value for educators, policy makers, and future student generations. Originality/value – GUESSS is the first study to explore the entrepreneurial spirit of Chinese students in great depth and to enable an international comparison of the findings.