To determine the nationwide prevalence and genetic diversity of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) in China, 92 dairy farms with more than 500 animals in 19 provinces of China were surveyed in 2017. At each farm, ear notch samples from calves less than six months old and bulk tank milk (BTM) samples were collected. A total of 901 ear notch samples and 329 BTM samples from 183 tanks were sampled. A total of 20 (20/901, 2.22 %) ear notch samples from 10 (10/92, 10.86 %) farms tested positive for BVDV by IDEXX Antigen Point-of-Care (POC) Test kit and real-time quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). In addition, 80 of 183 (80/183, 43.7 %) BTM samples from 43 (43/92, 46.7 %) farms were identified as positive by qRT-PCR. The RNA of positive and suspect samples identified by qRT-PCR was subjected to 5'- untranslated region (UTR) amplification by nested RT-PCR and then sequenced. A total of 119 sequences were obtained and phylogenetic analysis of these 5'-UTR sequences revealed the presence of eight different subgenotypes of BVDV-1 including 1a (n = 37, 31.09 %), 1b (n = 5, 4.20 %), 1c (n = 34, 28.57 %), 1d (n = 2, 1.68 %), 1m (n = 25, 21.01 %), 1q (n = 6, 5.04 %), and two unknown subgenotypes which were tentatively typed as "BVDV-1v" (n = 8, 6.72 %) and "BVDV-1w" (n = 2, 1.68 %), respectively. BVDV-1a, 1c, and 1m were the dominant strains, collectively accounting for 80.67 % (96/119) of all sequences. Phylogenetic analysis based on selected N-terminal autoprotease (Npro) sequences confirmed the classification of the 5'-UTR sequences. In conclusion, the prevalence of BVDV persistent infection in dairy cattle was high and genetic diversity was high and increasing, revealing a serious threat to the health of cattle in China and highlighting the need for BVDV control.