During the last two decades, MBR applications in China grow exponentially with the first pilot test of 10 m3/d in 1999 and the first application with capacity of 110,000 m3/d commissioned in 2009. It is critical to examine the drivers of MBR applications in China, which can provide sound scientific basis for future development of MBR applications. This study summarized the historical development of MBR applications and analyzed the driving forces by survey, literature review and interviews with MBR suppliers. The results showed that: (1) technical advantages of MBR and public policy related to water resources and environment promoted MBR beyond lab and pilot test into wide commercial applications in China; (2) petrochemical industry needs for wastewater treatment and reuse promoted medium-scale MBRs as public policy and regulation on water resources and environment tightens; (3) when the breakthrough of capacity of a single project above 10 thousand m3/d, the Green Olympic Games and Asian Games and tightening effluent regulations in environmentally sensitive areas incentivized MBR applications; and (4) the emergence of 100,000 m3/d MBR was mainly stimulated by water resources stress. Water resources stress and public policy related on resources and the environment are the primary driving forces in the last several decades. The future drivers of MBR applications in China appear to be decreasing operation cost.