The Sino-Japanese Floristic Region (SJFR) of East Asia harbors the most diverse of the world's temperate flora, and was the most important glacial refuge for its Tertiary representatives ('relics') throughout Quaternary ice-age cycles. A steadily increasing number of phylogeographic studies in the SJFR of mainland China and adjacent areas, including the Qinghai-Tibetan-Plateau (QTP) and Sino-Himalayan region, have documented the population histories of temperate plant species in these regions. Here we review this current literature that challenges the oft-stated view of the SJFR as a glacial sanctuary for temperate plants, instead revealing profound effects of Quaternary changes in climate, topography, and/or sea level on the current genetic structure of such organisms. There are three recurrent phylogeographic scenarios identified by different case studies that broadly agree with longstanding biogeographic or palaeo-ecological hypotheses: (i) postglacial re-colonization of the QTP from (south-)eastern glacial refugia; (ii) population isolation and endemic species formation in Southwest China due to tectonic shifts and river course dynamics; and (iii) long-term isolation and species survival in multiple localized refugia of (warm-)temperate deciduous forest habitats in subtropical (Central/East/South) China. However, in four additional instances, phylogeographic findings seem to conflict with a priori predictions raised by palaeo-data, suggesting instead: (iv) glacial in situ survival of some hardy alpine herbs and forest trees on the QTP platform itself; (v) long-term refugial isolation of (warm-)temperate evergreen taxa in subtropical China; (vi) 'cryptic' glacial survival of (cool-)temperate deciduous forest trees in North China; and (vii) unexpectedly deep (Late Tertiary/early-to-mid Pleistocene) allopatric-vicariant differentiation of disjunct lineages in the East China-Japan-Korea region due to past sea transgressions. We discuss these and other consequences of the main phylogeographic findings in light of palaeo-environmental evidence, emphasize notable gaps in our knowledge, and outline future research prospects for disentangling the evolution and biogeographic history of the region's extremely diverse temperate flora. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.