C-reactive protein (CRP) levels vary remarkably with ethnic status. Its distribution and correlates should be investigated across diverse populations, and these were limited in a representative Chinese population. We investigated 3133 participants aged 18–80 years in Shanghai, which were sampled using a randomized, stratified, multi-stage sampling method. The distribution of CRP was highly skewed toward a lower level. The median CRP was 0.55 mg/L (0.61 mg/L in males, 0.51 mg/L in females). Participants living in urban region had higher CRP levels than those in rural region (0.67 vs. 0.46 mg/L). CRP levels showed significant correlation with traditional cardiovascular risk factors, and it was most strongly correlated with body mass index. Multivariate logistic regression analyses indicated that elevated CRP (being in the top 15 percentile of CRP; CRP ≥ 2.09 mg/L) was significantly associated with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high triglycerides and cardiovascular disease history. In conclusion, the distribution of CRP in adult Chinese was comparable with that of many other Asian populations but different from that of Western populations. Metabolic impairment was associated with elevated CRP, and CRP levels should be interpreted in conjunction with the lipid profile.