While China continues attracting the attention of social scientists worldwide and Chinese names and faces become a must for international forums, what can Chinese social researchers do in China? Placing it in the context of socio-political changes as well as intellectual development after the Cultural Revolution, the paper delineates how professional academic research on migration emerged in the 1990s vis-à-vis ideological debates and policy study. One of the most important achievements of academic research has probably been the establishment of a migrant-centred narrative which focuses on migrants' experiences and problems, as opposed to treating migration as an aggregate phenomenon to be managed by the state. In doing so this narrative helps win wide sympathy for migrants. This paper also calls attention to an emerging triangular relationship between research, mass media and policymakers where research influences policy through informing the public and promoting certain public discourses. At the current stage the interactions between the three parties and the subsequent policy changes are often driven by dramatic incidents, and researchers therefore face the challenge to make the triangle more sustainable.