We present radiocarbon (14C) measurements of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) from surface waters of 11 lakes, widely distributed in China. Surface lake water DIC F14C values show distinct differences, and we relate these to the physical exchange character (“open” or “closed”) of each lake. Open lakes studied here generally have lower DIC F14C values than closed lakes. We present a simple model of a lake water cycle to calculate an average residence time for each lake. Comparisons between lake DIC F14C and average residence time shows that the DIC F14C increases with the average residence time and reflects a steady-state.