ZnO nanorods were prepared by a hydrothermal reaction in the presence or absence of PVP (polyvinyl pyrrolidone). The obtained products were characterized by means of X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, Fourier transform infrared, UV-Vis absorption (UV) spectroscopy and photoluminescence (PL) spectroscopy. The results suggest that PVP plays an important role in the preparation of ZnO nanorods. The UV absorption spectrum showed PVP increases the UV-shielding ability but doesn’t influence the transparency in the visible light region. A weak UV emission at 353 nm of PL spectra exhibit the surface of ZnO nanorods is passivated and oxygen-related defects is supplied by PVP.