Illite, the predominant component of the clay fraction of the Chinese loess, has been studied by X-ray diffraction (XRD) in 33 samples taken from the Holocene palaeosol (S0), the last glacial loess (L1) and the last interglacial palaeosol (S1) in the Louchuan loess section of the Loess Plateau in China. The XRD investigations indicate that it is mainly a 2M 1 dioctahedral mineral with crystallinity values ranging from 0.23 to 0.36 degrees Delta 2theta (CIS Index). The 2M 1 polytype illites with low IC values preclude a pedogenic formation of illites in the surface horizons of aridic and semi-aridic soils or deserts, and thus the clay mineral composition was largely determined by provenance. The illites are considered to be of detrital origin derived from pre-existing sediments and very low- to low-grade metamorphic rocks, eroded from the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The clay content of the loess and palaeosols was largely controlled by the strength of the winter monsoon, rather than by effects of in situ pedogenetic processes.