Background: To study the differences in ophthalmology resident training between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).Methods: Training programs were selected from among the largest and best-known teaching hospitals. Ophthalmology residents were sent an anonymous 48-item questionnaire by mail. Work satisfaction, time allocation between training activities and volume of surgery performed were determined.Results: 50/75 residents (66.7 %) from China and 20/26 (76.9 %) from HKSAR completed the survey. Age (28.9 ± 2.5 vs. 30.2 ± 2.9 years, p = 0.15) and number of years in training (3.4 ± 1.6 vs. 2.8 ± 1.5, p = 0.19) were comparable between groups. The number of cataract procedures performed by HKSAR trainees (extra-capsular, median 80.0, quartile range: 30.0, 100.0; phacoemulsification, median: 20.0, quartile range: 0.0, 100.0) exceeded that for Chinese residents (extra-capsular: median = 0, p < 0.0001; phacoemulsification: median = 0, p < 0.0001). Chinese trainees spent more time completing medical charts (>50 % of time on charts: 62.5 % versus 5.3 %, p < 0.0001) and received less supervision (≥90 % of training supervised: 4.4 % versus 65 %, p < 0.0001). Chinese residents were more likely to feel underpaid (96.0 % vs. 31.6 %, p < 0.0001) and hoped their children would not practice medicine (69.4 % vs. 5.0 %, p = 0.0001) compared HKSAR residents.Conclusions: In this study, ophthalmology residents in China report strikingly less surgical experience and supervision, and lower satisfaction than HKSAR residents. The HKSAR model of hands-on resident training might be useful in improving the low cataract surgical rate in China.