The paleo-synoptic conditions that prevailed during the past ∼80 kyr in northeastern China are inferred from the elemental and Sr–Nd isotopic compositions of Lake Sihailongwan Maar sediments. The detrital fraction in the lake sediments is dominated by aeolian input of felsic-rock origin, with little contribution of local volcanic material. Based on the isotopic Sr–Nd composition of the lake core-sediments, we postulate that the deserts of northern China are the main source of allochthonous particles to the lake throughout the past ∼80 kyr. Northwesterly winds associated with the East Asian winter monsoon and high latitude westerlies are the main carriers of dust from these deserts to the lake. The deserts of central China are an additional minor dust source. The episodic dust input from these deserts results from anomalous dry southwesterly winds. These could be related to either El Niño conditions, or to delays in the onset of the East Asian summer monsoon rains.