The purpose of this study was to describe knowledge of urinary incontinence among community nurses and community-dwelling older people in China. The descriptive study was undertaken in 2007 using a cross-sectional research design. A random sampling method was used to recruit 100 Chinese older people and 100 Chinese nurses in JinShan and NanHui communities, Shanghai, China. All participants completed all items of a demographic survey and the Urinary Incontinence Knowledge Scale (UIKS). Based on the literature, the UIKS was developed in 2007. The value of content validity index tested by five experts was 0.75. Measures of internal consistency (Kuder–Richardson formula 20) were 0.72 for the community nurses and 0.69 for the older people. The UIKS consisted of 30 items with dichotomous choices (Correct = 1; False or Do not know = 0). The mean UIKS score of the nurses (mean 20.7, SD 3.5) was significantly higher than that of the older people (mean 13.4, SD 4.0) with a 95% confidence interval for difference in means 6.3–8.4 (t = 13.84; df = 198; P < 0.001). Although community nurses had moderate knowledge of the impact of incontinence, they still lacked knowledge of risk factors, symptoms, prevention, treatment, and management. Older people had poor knowledge about risk factors, symptoms, impact, prevention, treatment and management of urinary incontinence. Because of their knowledge deficits, community nurses and older people viewed urinary incontinence as a normal part of the ageing process. The findings suggested that both nurses and older people in the community had educational needs related to the incontinence. Further studies to develop specific educational programmes concerning urinary incontinence are suggested. Ways to enhance support and acceptable forms of specific content knowledge, process measures and regulatory enforcement require additional exploration.