Substantial anthropogenic emissions from China have resulted in serious air pollution, and this has generated considerable academic and public concern. The physical transport of air pollutants in the atmosphere has been extensively investigated; however, understanding the mechanisms how the pollutant was transferred through economic and trade activities remains a challenge. For the first time, we quantified and tracked China’s air pollutant emission flows embodied in interprovincial trade, using a multiregional input–output model framework. Trade relative emissions for four key air pollutants (primary fine particle matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds) were assessed for 2007 in each Chinese province. We found that emissions were significantly redistributed among provinces owing to interprovincial trade. Large amounts of emissions were embodied in the imports of eastern regions from northern and central regions, and these were determined by differences in regional economic status and environmental policy. It is suggested that measures should be introduced to reduce air pollution by integrating cross-regional consumers and producers within national agreements to encourage efficiency improvement in the supply chain and optimize consumption structure internationally. The consumption-based air pollutant emission inventory developed in this work can be further used to attribute pollution to various economic activities and final demand types with the aid of air quality models.