The water footprint (WF) is a widely recognised and comprehensive indicator of both the direct and indirect appropriation of freshwater. It has been utilised for diverse functions, including as a key indicator of the planetary boundaries and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Focusing on the nation with the greatest WF, i.e., China, this study reviews journal articles both in English and Chinese published from January 2003 to June 2020. Using CiteSpace and bibliometric analysis of papers, journals, and keywords, we explore state-of-the-art WF accounting, driving forces, and effects. Visible differences in WF accounting keywords and spatial scales between English and Chinese literature are identified. Reported WF values for the same product varied across studies, and there was a lack of information regarding uncertainties. Key driving factors have been largely investigated for agricultural WFs but not for other sectors. The WF impact analyses primarily assess the environmental effects, ignoring the associated social and economic impacts. The development of WF studies has improved our understanding of water issues in China. However, there are still existing knowledge gaps to be filled to find solutions to WF-related issues.
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