Background: Incidents of patient-initiated workplace violence against health care workers have been a subject of substantial public attention in China. Patient-initiated violence not only represents a risk of harm to health care providers but is also indicative of general tensions between doctors and patients which pose a challenge to improving health system access and quality. This study aims to provide a systematic, national-level characterization of serious workplace violence against health care workers in China. Methods: This study extracted data from the China Judgment Online System, a comprehensive database of judgment documents. Three key phrases,
criminal case,'' health care institution,'' and ``health care worker'' were used to search the China Judgment Online System for relevant cases between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2016. Data extracted from identified cases was used to document the occurrence, the degree of risk, and the factors associated with serious workplace violence. Results: In total, 459 criminal cases involving patient-initiated workplace violence against health care workers in China were reported and processed. The analysis revealed geographic heterogeneity in the occurrence of serious workplace violence, with lower incidence in western provinces compared to central and eastern provinces. Primary hospitals experienced the highest rates of serious workplace violence and emergency departments and doctors were at higher risk compared with other departments and health workers. Perpetrators were primarily male farmers aged 18 to 44 with low levels of education. The most frequently reported reasons of serious patient-initiated workplace violence included perceived medical malpractice by the perpetrator after the death of a patient, death of a patient with no other reason given, failures of the compensation negotiations after the death of a patient, and dissatisfaction with the treatment outcomes. Conclusions: Serious workplace violence against providers varies across regions and types of health care institutions in China. Perception of low-quality care is the most reported reason for violence. Efforts should be made to improve quality of care in the low-level health institutions and strengthen the doctor-patient communication during the whole course of service.