BACKGROUND Urbanization has been regarded as a strategic process to alleviate rural poverty, support local economic growth, and facilitate national sustainable development in China. Scholars have long realized that urbanization is a comprehensive process that can be understood through studies of population migration among places where population flows occur. OBJECTIVE Place attractivity is a concept derived from the place interaction model, which measures the ability for urban areas to attract migrants, hence the "ability" of urbanization. By studying the spatial patterns of China's place attractivity, the study attempts to depict the current migration and urbanization dynamics in China and support sustainable urbanization strategies in China. METHODS The Relative Intrinsic Attractivity (RIA) index provides an excellent quantification strategy to measure place attractivity. With data obtained at the prefecture level from China's 2005 1% census sampling survey (the most recent of such data), the study calculated RIA for each prefecture units and various population groups. RESULTS The results suggest that cities in central China have the lowest place attractivity. There is a diverging trend of China's place attractivity with a rather unbalanced urban system development. Cities of different sizes have a different place attractivity, with large cities having the highest attractivity. A city's attractivity also varies between population groups. CONTRIBUTIONS The study suggests from a place attractivity perspective that urbanization in China requires careful coordination and planning. The top priority for China's urbanization is to devise relevant policies and support rational and sustainable industrial development in small cities and towns to increase their attractivity.