In urban China, residential mobility behaviors have changed fundamentally in recent decades. While research has been undertaken on the trends and causes of residential relocation for different population groups, less attention has been paid to micro‐level processes of residential change, yet the latter underscore urban dynamics. This study addresses this through a survey conducted in Guangzhou in late 2012, which analyzes the spatial flows of residential shifts within and between three distance zones—inner core, inner suburbs and outer suburbs—to reveal complex mobility trends. In particular, hukou or household registration status, socio‐economic status, the nature and rank of employment, and tenure were found to have varied effects on the probability of inward and outward shifts. More specifically, while outward shifts in recent years mainly involved local hukou holders, families with higher education levels, a higher socio‐economic status or those working for government departments and public institutions were found to be more likely to settle in high‐rise commodity housing in the inner core. The majority of non‐hukou migrants, by contrast, moved within the same street or between adjacent streets within the same suburban area, while age, socio‐economic status and homeownership were found to increase an individual’s chance of an inward shift.