In this paper we examine urban ^ rural return migration in China. We argue that the tradi- tional success ^ failure dichotomy approach used for analyzing return migration is inadequate and that it must be expanded to address better the institutional context of the transitional economy. Using an empirical study of Sichuan and Anhui provinces, we analyze the selectivity of return migrants and their reasons for return, focusing not only on how returnees compare with continuing migrants, but also on their decisionmaking. The analysis indicates that returnees are negatively selected among migrants and suggests that failure migrants are more prevalent than are typically portrayed in the literature. The results also highlight family demand as an important reason for return. These findings suggest that migrants' institutional and social inferiority in the city undermines their likelihood to succeed in the destination and reinforces their desire to return when family needs arise. Our analysis raises questions about the optimism of existing studies about the contribution of return migrants in China's countryside.