This article argues that if the introduction of genetically modified crops (GM crops) in developing countries is to be successful, we can and should not evade questions of access and control of technology. It implies probing into the experiences, perceptions and understanding of GM crops by the prime user: the farmer. Exactly in these respects the scholarly literature is remarkably silent. We know little about farmers' experiences and perceptions of GM crops' potential risks and benefits. This is evident when concentrating on a major GM crop-Bt cotton-and studying this in the context of China, its second largest producer in the world. Based on the results of a large survey, we demonstrate that Chinese farmers' awareness ('having heard of') and their understanding ('being able to explain') of Bt cotton is low. This may lead to ill-informed, distorted risk perceptions and a general inability to relate agricultural production problems to the specific nature of transgenic cotton cultivation. A great majority of the farmers find that the Chinese seed market was liberalised too early, in turn leading to a high incidence of 'stealth transgenics' or illegal seeds, the undermining of farmers' trust in private institutions, and a weakened biosafety regime. This finding points to the need for continued state intervention in the seed market, particularly in a developing context. Finally, we have discovered that farmers report a significantly lower reduction in pesticide use by Bt cotton than found in other studies. As suggested by recent research, we suspect that the higher pesticide use is necessary to control secondary pests-i.e. pests other than the cotton bollworm. We present empirical evidence that Chinese farmers perceive a substantive increase in secondary pests after Bt cotton was introduced.