Hail size records are analyzed at 2254 stations in China and a hail size climatology is developed based on gridded hail observations for the period 1960–2015. It is found that the annual percentiles of hail size records changed sharply and national-wide after 1980, therefore two periods, 1960–79 and 1980–2015, are studied. There are some similarities between the two periods in terms of the characteristics of hail size such as the spatial distribution patterns of mean annual maximum hail size and occurrence week of annual maximum hail size. The 1980–2015 period had higher observation density than the 1960–79 period, but showed smaller mean annual maximum hail size, especially in northern China. In the majority of grid boxes, the annual maximum hail size experienced a decreasing trend during the 1980–2015 period. A Gumbel extreme value model is fitted to each grid box to estimate the return periods of maximum hail size. The scale and location parameter of the fitted Gumbel distributions are higher in eastern China than in western China, thereby reflecting a greater likelihood of large hail in eastern China. In southern China, the maximum hail size exceeds 127 mm for a 10-yr return period, whereas in northern China maximum hail size exceeds this threshold for a 50-yr return period. The Gumbel model is found to potentially underestimate the maximum hail size for certain return periods, but provides a more informed picture of the spatial distribution of extreme hail size and the regional differences.