Genome instability is a hallmark of cancer. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with high levels of chromosomal aberrations. The purpose of this study was to characterize chromosomal aberrations in Chinese DLBCL patients and to compare chromosomal abnormalities between germinal centre B-cell-like (GCB) and non-GCB subgroups. Fluorescence in situ hybridization, G-band cytogenetics and immunohistochemistry were performed in 231 cases of de novo DLBCL. We demonstrated that the rate of abnormal and complex karyotypes was 89.1% (139/156) and 92.8% (129/139), respectively. We found a total of 490 structural chromosomal aberrations, including 96 frequent and recurring structural alterations. Most importantly, we identified several rare or novel chromosomal alterations: eight gains (5, 13, 14q, 17, 19p, 20, 21p, Y), one loss (21) and three recurrent translocations [t(7;15)(q22;q22), t(3;20)(p24;q13.1), t(2;3)(q21;q25)]. Moreover, the frequent recurrent genomic imbalance between GCB and non-GCB subgroups was different. Finally, we discovered two cases of concurrent IGH-BCL6 and MYC rearrangements. The rate of abnormal karyotypes in DLBCL patients of Chinese descent was similar to that of Western countries, but some common karyotypes were different, as were the abnormal karyotypes of GCB and non-GCB subgroups. Our discovery of rare and novel abnormal karyotypes may represent unique chromosomal alterations in Chinese DLBCL patients. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.