© 2016The Chinese loess/palaeosol succession is one of the most comprehensive and intensively studied archives of Neogene and Quaternary global palaeoclimate events. Its stratigraphic details are widely recognised to indicate close links to the history and function of the East Asian Winter Monsoon (EAWM) – one of the most active components of the Earth's climate system. But the formal meteorological links between the EAWM and dust emission, both in the present day and in the past, have not been established and with it, the veracity of the loess record as an indicator of the EAWM questioned. Here we show that present day major dust events over northern China, while largely occurring during spring, are nevertheless ‘conditioned’ by the strength of the preceding EAWM. We also demonstrate, for the first time, a close link between the occurrence of dust events and the strength of the EAWM. From these findings, linked to global-scale climate model simulations, we conclude that the Chinese loess succession provides a convincing proxy record of the strength of the East Asian Winter Monsoon.