The prevalence of irregular migration from a small region in the central parts of Fujian province has associated Chinese emigration with organized crime, exploitation and opportunism in a range of popular and academic writings both in China and outside China. Although migration brokers (“snakeheads”) play an important role in maintaining migratory flows already underway, they should not be seen as the root cause of mi ration from Fujian. In this article, we report on recently conducted fieldwork in two villages in central Fujian characterized by large-scale emigration to Europe. Emigration from this part of China is strongly embedded in local political, sociocultural and economic institutions and histories. Migration brokers are certainly a part, but not embeddedness of migration renders population mobility from each area in China highly specific, and broad generalizations on the causes, nature bound to misrepresent a highly complex reality.