During the last 30 years, China has witnessed rapid economic growth and dramatic urbanization, with about 1.2 × 10^7 rural people migrating annually into urban areas. Meanwhile, especially since 1995, the rural population has been declining, which is closely linked to land circulation and the increase in farm size in many villages. Increasing scale of farming operations is often regarded as a key to avoiding the abandonment of farmland and to increasing the income of rural farmers. However, until now, there has been little research on the spatial and temporal variability of farm size at the national level in China. Using data from the national agricultural census and rural household surveys, this study examines the characteristics of land use circulation and the consequent changes in the area of farmland per household. The results show that: 1) 12.2% of rural households were involved in land circulation at the national level. The highest amounts of land circulation have occurred in those provinces where the farmland per capita is more than 0.2 ha or less than 0.1 ha; 2) over 80% of households operate less than 0.6 ha of farmland; 3) the proportion of mid-sized farms (between 0.2 ha and 0.6 ha per household) has decreased while the smallest and the largest farms have increased. This bears some similarity with the phenomenon known as the 'disappearing middle', referring to the changes in farm size. This study establishes a framework for interpreting the factors affecting the changes in farm size in China, which include two promoting factors (urbanization and agriculture) and four hindering factors (agricultual land system, household registration, stable clan system, and farmland loss).