Trafficking in children has attracted worldwide attention in the last two decades primarily due to its links with global migratory movements and the role ‘transnational organised crime’ is perceived to play in these. Internal trafficking is largely ignored primarily because of a preoccupation with cross-border, transnational migratory movements. Arguably, the growth of the relevant literature has given rise to certain widespread perceptions about the uniformity in the trade characteristics and actors under the common rubric of ‘trafficking in human beings’. By capitalising on direct linguistic access to a wide range of Chinese open sources, the purpose of the article is to offer an account of the various dimensions of the issue as they present themselves in the particular Chinese context. Our main concern has been to perform a systematic presentation of this material in light of the extant wider literature. In the Chinese case the combination of socioeconomic, political and cultural factors set a complex picture that highlights the shortcomings of dominant ways of thinking about the phenomenon. This complex picture serves usefully to cast doubts with regard to how the criminal activity itself is being conceptualised as well as to perceptions of victimisation embodied in current discourses on human trafficking.