More than three-quarters of China's cities lack "safe" air, while the countryside is facing an increasingly "grim" environmental crisis, according to the Environment Ministry's annual report.
The ministry laid bare the challenges facing new President Xi Jinping as he seeks to build what the incoming leadership has dubbed a "beautiful China".
Just 27 of the 113 largest Chinese cities enjoyed "safe" air last year while a third of China's most important rivers were polluted or severely polluted, it reported.
Government officials also found that 60 per cent of ground water was of "bad" or "extremely bad" quality.
The report's authors described an even bleaker situation in rural China, where it admitted "increasing pressure from mining" and "heavy pollution from livestock farming" was wreaking havoc.
The report concluded China was a long way from building what the Communist Party has dubbed an "ecological civilisation" and said overall environmental trends "remained extremely serious".
The report skirted over the issue of soil pollution, which has become one of China's most controversial environmental topics.