This study reports the first data on the concentrations and distribution of phthalate esters (PAEs) in the agricultural soils from the peri-urban areas of Guangzhou city. Sigma(16)PAEs concentrations ranged from 0.195 to 33.6 microg g(-1)-dry weight (dw). Elevated levels of PAEs were recorded in the vegetable fields located next to the urban districts, and a decreasing trend exists following the distance away from the urban center. Diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), Di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), and Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) dominated the PAEs in the agricultural soils. Significant relationship (correlation coefficient R(2)=0.85, p<0.01, n=40) was present between the accumulation of PAEs and total organic carbons in agricultural soils. In addition, both pH and texture of soils are found to be important factors affecting the level of PAEs. This study shows that the agricultural soils in the peri-urban area of Guangzhou city were moderately polluted by PAEs.