Eastern China has experienced severe and persistent winter haze episodes in recent years due to intensification of aerosol pollution. In addition to anthropogenic emissions, the winter aerosol pollution over eastern China is associated with unusual meteorological conditions, including weaker wind speeds. Here we show, based on model simulations, that during years with decreased wind speed, large decreases in dust emissions (29%) moderate the wintertime land–sea surface air temperature difference and further decrease winds by −0.06 (±0.05) m s−1 averaged over eastern China. The dust-induced lower winds enhance stagnation of air and account for about 13% of increasing aerosol concentrations over eastern China. Although recent increases in anthropogenic emissions are the main factor causing haze over eastern China, we conclude that natural emissions also exert a significant influence on the increases in wintertime aerosol concentrations, with important implications that need to be taken into account by air quality studies.