Abstract Background Bullying has public health importance. It has been reported that both the victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to have suicidal ideation and other suicidal behaviours. Moreover, bullying can be a precursor for school violence and can contribute to poor academic performance. The purpose of the study was to raise awareness on the subject in China. We, therefore conducted an analysis of secondary data to determine the prevalence and correlates of having been bullied among in-school adolescents. Methods The data was taken from the Beijing Global School-Based Health Survey conducted in 2003. A weighted analysis to reduce bias due to differing patterns of non-response was conducted using statistical software (SPSS version 14.0). We conducted a backward logistic regression analysis to determine independent predictors for being bullied. Results Out of a total of 2,348 in-school adolescents who participated in the survey, 20% (23% males, and 17% females) reported having been bullied. Risk factors for having been bullied were loneliness (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.44; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.42–1.45), being worried (AOR = 1.30; 95% CI 1.29–1.32), being sad or having feelings of hopelessness (AOR = 1.21; 95% CI 1.19–1.22), smoking cigarettes (AOR = 1.09; 95% CI 1.08–1.11), drinking alcohol (AOR = 1.31; 95% CI 1.29–1.32), and being truant (AOR = 1.24; 95% CI 1.22–1.27). Meanwhile protective factors were having close friends (AOR = 0.84; 95% CI 0.83–0.86), receiving parental supervision (AOR = 0.80; 95% CI 0.80–0.81), and ever been drunk (AOR = 0.86; 95% CI 0.84–0.87). Conclusion We believe the results of this study will raise awareness among school health practitioners and administrators, paediatric psychiatrists and psychologists on the prevalence and correlates of bullying among adolescents in Beijing, China.