While China continues to attract the attention of social scientists worldwide and Chinese names and faces become a must at international forums, what can Chinese social researchers do in their own country? In the context of socio-political changes as well as intellectual development after the Cultural Revolution, this paper delineates how professional academic research on migration emerged in the 1990s through ideological debate and policy study. One of the most important achievements of academic research has probably been the establishment of a narrative focused on migrants’ experiences and problems, as opposed to treating migration as an aggregate phenomenon to be managed by the state. The paper also calls attention to an emerging triangular relationship between research, mass media and policy-makers in which research influences policy through informing the public and promoting certain public discourses. Currently, interactions between the three parties and the subsequent policy changes are often driven by dramatic incidents, and researchers are therefore facing the challenge of making the triangle more sustainable.