The 17-metre (55-foot) core module was a star attraction at the biennial Airshow China in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai, the country's main aerospace industry exhibition.
Outside, China's J-10 fighter jet and J-20 stealth fighter wowed spectators as they zoomed across Zhuhai's sky. Back inside, the country displayed its fleet of drones and other military hardware.
Crowds gathered around the cylindrical space station module representing the living and working quarters of the Tiangong -- or "Heavenly Palace" -- which will also have two other modules for scientific experiments and will be equipped with solar panels.
Three astronauts will be permanently stationed in the 60-tonne orbiting lab, which will enable the crew to conduct biological and microgravity research.
Assembly is expected to be completed around 2022 and the station would have a lifespan of around 10 years.
The International Space Station -- a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan -- has been in operation since 1998 but is due to be retired in 2024.