Monday, November 09, 2015

Changing Attitudes: My Experiences Living Under the One-Child Policy

"One Couple Raising One Girl is Good for the Country,, People and the Family." (Gaoming, Guangdong)
Changing Attitudes: My Experiences Living Under the One-Child Policy
by Lan Stuy

Last Sunday, we had a family gathering at my mother-in-law’s house. During our family time there, one of my sisters-in-law suggested that everyone in our family prepare a little story to share, one of our best memories from our childhoods, in the coming family Christmas party this year.
I know that everyone in my family here in the United States has a lot of pictures and videos to remind them of their wonderful childhoods. I don’t have a single picture or any video to remind me of my childhood at all. But the memories that I have from my childhood have always stayed in the deepest part of my heart.
One of the best memories that I have was when my older sister gave me a ride on her bicycle through the towns and villages around my home. We went to another village to visit my grandmother, and I spent every summer vacation there. Most of my time there was spent trying to catch the fish and play in the water in the river beside the village, or looking after the water buffalo on the hill for my uncle with other friends my age. I loved my grandmother, who always tried to make delicious food for me.
I remember my grandmother was always very thin and worked so hard to take care the family. She lived with my oldest uncle and took care of my cousin from the day he was born, because my aunt died the same day she gave birth to him.
I learned from my mother that my grandmother was 16 when she married my grandfather, and she was 17 when she had her first child. She had ten biological children with my grandfather over her entire marriage. In that time, even though life was very difficult, the traditional idea was that more children bring more happiness.
My grandmother unfortunately watched five of her children die in her arms at different times, because life was terribly difficult and my grand-parents did not have money to pay to go visit the hospital when one of my aunts or uncles got sick. My mother was the oldest in the family, and she is very appreciative that she survived. My grandmother always adored me and my sisters every time we visited during the Summer.
When my mother was 24, she met my dad through an "Introducer" and decided to get married to my father about four months later. She believed my father was a good person that she could trust. Another reason was she did not want to marry any men in her local area.  That year my dad was 32. 
My dad was alone for years already because both his parents had passed away when he was about 24. He had been fighting for his own life for many years until he married my mother and started a new family together.

In 1962, my oldest sister was born. It lit up my mother’s life when she arrived, because most of the time my mom stayed at home in the village by herself while my dad worked in the city to build with his construction team. My mom had to take care of my oldest sister by herself most of the time, and she was also very busy taking care of the farm.

Then, after a miscarriage that my parents believed was a boy, my mom got pregnant again! In 1966, my second older sister was born. But she didn’t bring much surprise to the family because my dad wanted a boy and she was another girl!

In 1969, my mom gave birth to her third surviving child in our local hospital, and it was a girl again.  My third older sister was the healthiest baby ever in the family, since she weighed 7 pounds and had beautiful long, thick black hair already when she was born. “No one believed she was a newborn baby,” my mom always says when telling us the story about when we were born, “She looked like a two month old baby.” 

In 1970, at midnight in late Summer, my mother walked herself in the darkness to the local hospital. Around 4:00 or 5:00 am, as soon as I was born, my mother packed me up and held me tight in her arms, and walked in the rain and darkness in pain back to our home because she was very concerned about the three young girls that she had left. I weighed only 2.2kg, a little tiny hungry kitty wrapped in her arms, and I was the lightest baby in my family's history.

Because my father still hoped to have a son, in 1972 my mom gave birth to her fifth surviving child. It was a girl again! That was my younger sister Mei.

In 1974, my mom gave birth to her last child, a girl also, but unfortunately our youngest little sister didn’t make it and died from sickness in my mom’s arms when she was about one and half years old.

That’s the story about how the “Five Golden Flowers” were created in our family.

"Having Family Planning is a basic policy of our country." (Fenghuang, Chongqing) 
In the late 1970’s, China started a family planning program to try to control the population of China . In 1980, China started the One Child Policy. In 1984, one of the new rules of the OCP stated that rural families were allowed to have a second child after four years if the first child was a girl. It was during this time that my three older sisters got married and started their new families. It was a "hot time" for the "one child" police. My oldest sister married her first love, a boy from our village who went to High School together with her. They had their first boy, my nephew, in 1985. Four years later, my oldest sister had her second and last child in 1989, and it was also a boy. In China, people always talk about the OCP was only aimed at the poor families who have no money, no power, and no relationship with the people that worked in the government. For example, in January 2014, there was news about famous movie director Yimou Zhang finally have received a fine from the Wuxi City Family Planning Bureau of 7,487,854 yuan because he had two boys and one girl in his second married. It is and was very common that people who either have money or power could always escape the OCP rule to have extra children if they wanted. So, while my oldest sister and her husband had no money and no power, they both were from the same area and had relationships with those who worked at the Family Planning Office. Thus, even though their first child was as boy, they were able to have a second child four years later after their first boy was born.

Both my second and third older sisters got married about the same time, and both of their husbands were also from our local area, but different villages. Both of these sisters delivered their only children around the same time in the same year, and both were girls. Both of these sisters were happy with one girl.  As far as I know, all of my older sisters have never complained about not being able to have more children.   
My sisters were part of a very large and growing part of Chinese society. In 2000, fifty-five million couples were recorded as being “single-child” families.  This number grew to 90 million in 2007, and 176 million families in 2015.  Whereas during my mother’s child-bearing years most families had many children, by the time her daughters began building their families, most were satisfied with having just one child.  While horrible methods were sometimes employed to enforce the OCP, the change in attitudes of most Chinese to how many children they want is a very impressive accomplishment. 
"Boy or Girl, It is the Same -- Both Can Carry the Family Name" (Yulin, Shaanxi).
Last year when I went back to China, I attended my niece’s wedding. She was 22.  Last month when I arrived in China, I was able to hold and play with her little boy, the first child of my niece, and he was four months old. When I asked my niece if she was planning to have a second child, she answered “No.” She said she already felt pressure of “too much work” and “too expensive” to raise a child in China now.
Before I left China to come home, my other niece was in the middle of planning her wedding in a few months with her husband (they already got their marriage certificate last year). She told me that she is enjoying her “life of two” (her husband and her) very much so far, and both of them were very busy doing their family business together. As a result, she said, she is not planning to have any children soon.
During my research across China over the past decade, I have often seen the Family Planning pictures posted everywhere in the countryside, and sometimes in the towns and cities. In the advertising, there is often talk such as  “It’s great to just have one child”, or “Boy and girl are the same,” “The Family Planning is a basic state policy of our country,” or “Delayed marriage and delay child bearing, fewer and healthier births,”…etc.  I don’t know how much those words and sentences in the Family Planning pictures have changed people’s minds to consider having just one child, but when I look at the change that my family from the generation of my grandparents till today, the new generation of my nieces, there is a big difference in attitudes! I believe the old generations (my grandparents and my parents), most of them felt like they could find their living place, their “refuge,” in the intergenerational succession. So, children meant everything to them for their whole life. They always tried to have as many  children they could. Today, the new generation is more considering of what kind of life they prefer to have for themselves, and they figured out that their future living place doesn’t need to rely on their children anymore.

When I was reading the news and people’s blogs online about China, I have learned the number of “DINK” (double income, no kids”) couples is going up and up every year. I know two of my old friends, both of whom have been married over ten years. They are still enjoying their “life of two” today.

Today I am sitting by the computer, looking at the information of the thirty-two birth families that we located, and that have turned in their DNA samples. Of these thirty-two birth families, one of the children given up was the first child in the family, and this girl had a special need. One of the girls was the third child. As far as I know, all the rest were second children in their families.  In every case that I know of, the reason was to try and get a boy.  The recent changes in the one-child policy would not have changed the outcome for any of these families, because they already had an older daughter in the family, and were already allowed to try for a second child (with the hope that the second child would be a boy). It seems these birth families are happy with how many children they have now, but regretted what they did in the old days, “giving away” their daughter for another chance to have a boy that the family needed.

On October 29, 2015, there was much excitement for the Chinese when the news came out about that the one-child policy had changed to allow families to have two children. Below were some common comments posted by people inside China about the news:

“Many of my friends, don’t even want to get marry, so forget about having children. Even if they have an opportunity to have two children now, most of them don’t even want to have children at all. This generation are all spoiled children of the family, and there is no hope from them. ‘There is no need to live so tired,’ that’s what they said.”

“Poor us! We have no chance to pregnant again if we kept waiting. The Family Planning is aimed at people like us who have no money. The people that have money can have as many children as they wanted, hopefully free-for-all will start earlier, even just started on the ages.”

“In a few years, even if the government pays money for the family/people to have more children, the family’ people won’t even want to do it! We will see!”

“Even allow to have two children now, but there aren’t many family/ people want more children, because you can give birth but not be able to afford to raise more children now.”

…. Etc.

Winter just came, Spring won’t be far behind. How much hope that the two children policy will bring or change the families in China in the coming new year? We will have to look towards the future and see.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Duplicate Finding Ad Publications

This week we were able to provide an adoptive family with the finding ad for their daughter, adopted at 10 years old.  The orphanage provided the family a xerox copy of her finding ad, published in 2010, which provided the earliest photo they had of their daughter, a smiling 5-year old.  What the family didn't know was that the orphanage had published a different ad less than a month after their daughter was found.  The orphanage had not provided this ad, which is typical.

There are many reasons an orphanage might publish more than one finding ad -- to correct an ad with incorrect information, to change a finding location, to add a special need discovered after the first ad was published.  Regardless of the reason, these earlier ad almost always have a different -- meaning younger -- photo of a child, and are thus extremely valuable (See the photo above as a typical example. The first ad was published in 2006, a month after the girl was found.  The second ad was published almost two years later).

As we work on our orphanage data books, we are discovering more and ore of these duplicate finding ads.  So, if you adopted your child later than average, or if you are simply curious to know if your child as two different finding ads, contact us and we will check our huge collection of newspapers.  Who knows, perhaps the photo you thought was your child's youngest isn't the earliest after all.

Email contact: BrianStuy@Research-China.Org

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Impact of the Hunan Scandal on China's Adoption Program

This essay was published orginally on our subscription blog in 2012, but seeing some recent comments by waiting families made me think the info might still be of some relevance to interested families.  

I was reading a waiting family's blog last week, and saw a discussion about how slow the CCAA is referring children.  The waiting families were understandably frustrated that the wait has increased from a year to over five years since many of them have sent their adoption dossiers to China, and with only a small number of referrals taking place each month, many asked the question "Why?"

Answers have been thrown out to explain the increased wait time, running the gamut from the 2008 Olympics to a decrease in abandonments due to increased economic affluence and access to abortion.  Some uninformed families believe that children are still coming into the orphanages, but that the CCAA has implimented a quota system that keeps them there, hidden from the world, and unadoptable.  All of these ideas can be tested, drawing on evidence from China's orphanages.  By focusing on the data from China's main providers of internationally adopted children, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces, we can test each hypothesis to see if it stands up to scrutiny, and ultimately determine what exactly caused China's program to so radically change over the past ten years.

First, let's begin answering the question of why by answering an even more basic question:  "When did the wait time begin increasing?"  After we have determined that fact, we can go on to address why.

 DTC Wait Times

The first clue as to why jumps out when we look at the wait time graph above.  Through most of 2003, the wait time for families ranged from eight months to fourteen months, with the overall trend being a decline in wait times.  Wait times in 2004 were very flat, ranging from six to eight months, a situation that continued through 2005.  It isn't until January 2006 that wait times break out to the upside, climbing to nine months, a trend reversal that saw wait times reaching 41 months in August 2009 and 72 months as I write this.

 This graph alone eliminates most of the "macro" reasons for the slowdown in referrals.  While there is little question that abortion and increased economic wealth have a global impact of abandonments, these changes occur slowly, over years, if not decades, not suddenly in the space of a few months as we see above.  Clearly something happened in late 2005 or early 2006 to cause wait times to increase, for the graph above points to a dramatic change in the "supply-demand" equation of China's program.  Either the number of children being referred declined in January, or the number of families submitting files to adopt increased sharply.

I say "supply-demand equation" because, at its most basic, that is what the wait time represents.  It is very much like a line at the corner coffee shop.  The shop can produce a limited amount of coffee each morning. If a Cappuccino machine breaks, the processing of customers begins to slow, and the line of waiting patrons increases, and further increases if morning commuters continue to get in line.  If an employee is particularly adept one morning at making the brew, he is able to serve the shop patrons more quickly, and the line shrinks.

 Imagine that the China program is represented by a single day at the coffee shop.  Obviously one would expect the number of abandonments to change due to macro influences like abortions and rising incomes, but since these changes would occur over a very long period of time, they would not impact the program in the extreme short term.  Such changes would be analogous to a rise in coffee prices -- they would have little impact on the number of people coming into the shop on any given day.

What we see in the graph above is akin to the complete shutdown of nearly all the coffee makers in the shop.  Only one machine continues, and the line of customers has begun to increase out the door and down the block.

"But," one might ask, "how do we know if the machines have broken down, rather than a bunch of new patrons are getting in the line?  Perhaps the 'supply' has remained constant, and the number of customers has simply increased."

A view of total adoptions from China shows that the number of adoptions being completed peaked in 2005, and fell by more than half by 2008.

 Clearly this is not a demand problem, since the patrons for China's adoption program are still stretched out the door and down the block.  The falling adoptions can only be a result of falling supply -- China's program experienced a sharp change in how much coffee it can produce, or to make it more accurate, how many children are available for adoption.  We will focus our attention on four Provinces in the discussion that follows: Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces.  These are the four largest adopting Provinces, accounting for over half (57%) of all submissions in 2009.

 One thing becomes quite clear when comparing the orphanage submission numbers above with the wait time graph at the start of this essay -- they are nearly perfectly inverted.  In other words, when submissions were at their peak in 2003, the wait time was at its minimum.  When submissions dropped in 2006, the wait times increased as a result.  This, of course, ignores the increasing demand seen over these years, but clearly something happened between 2005 and 2006 to drastically change the number of children entering the orphanages. 

So, what game-changing event occurred around January 2006 that would change the equation so dramatically?  Possible explanations include China's signing the Hague Agreement in September 2005, and the Hunan Trafficking scandal in November 2005.  No other event that I am aware of took place that would have such a substantial impact on China's orphanage program in such a short time frame.

If we zoom into 2005 and 2006, we can see if there is a specific month when things changed.  This would allow us to decide if signing the Hague Agreement was the cause, or if the Hunan scandal was at fault.  Fortunately, we can break down the findings for these four Provinces by month:

 Here one can graphically see that all four Provinces (Guangxi = Blue; Guangdong = Pink; Hunan = Yellow; Jiangxi = Rust) saw their finding rates substantially fall beginning in December 2005, with another steep drop being seen in February 2006.  By April 2006, submissions from the top four Provinces had declined from a little over 300 children per month to about 100, a decline of over 66%.

Other Provinces saw similar declines. While the Hague Agreement was ratified in September 2005, the Hunan scandal broke on November 25, 2005, with the trials taking place in February 2006.  Both events were accompanied by substantial national press attention inside China.  The timing of these two scandal events coincides perfectly with the decline we see in findings in our four Provinces.  Thus, it seems clear that the scandal is the cause for the slow-down, and not the Olympics, signing of Hague, or any of the other macro forces proposed.

Besides the slowdown in findings, what other characteristics of China's program changed concurrent to the Hunan scandal, and after?  One significant change occurred in the gender ratio of the children submitted. While overall findings declined after 2005, the decline was limited exclusively to females; male findings continued increasing unabated, as they had since 2000 (2011 is under-represented since many findings from 2011 appear in 2012 finding ads).

 In February 2006, a few weeks before the trials for the Hunan scandal directors was set to begin, the CCAA met with the major orphanage directors in Tianjin.  At this meeting, the focus was encouraging directors to submit as many files as they could, even special needs children that the directors may have felt were unadoptable before the scandal.  As a result, submissions of SN children began to increase.  Many of these children had been found many months, if not years before the scandal broke, and were residing in the orphanages, viewed as unadoptable before the February meeting.  But following the meeting, directors began processing the paperwork for these children.  When one graphs the average time between the finding date and the finding ad publication date from 2000 to 2011, one can easily see how the submission of these older children began to increase average "lag times" beginning in 2006.

Between 2000 and 2005, the orphanages published finding ads (the first step to an international adoption) within about 100 days of finding a child.  Hunan Province was the most "efficient", publishing ads on average less than 80 days after finding, while Guangdong was the least "efficient", averaging about 150 days between finding and finding ad publication.  "Efficiency" declined sharply in 2006, as orphanages began submitting children that had been found long before for adoption.  Guangdong's orphanage "lag time" hit a peak of almost two years in 2009 as they responded to the CCAA's pressure to submit previously unadoptable children (This discussion makes the assumption that the finding dates listed are accurate.  There is evidence that such may not be the case in all instances, and that children, particularly older children, have their finding dates artificially altered to much earlier. I have not seen evidence that this is widespread however).

Speaking in generalities, the impact of the Hunan scandal on China's program can be summarized in the following ways:

 1)  Prior to the scandal, the children submitted for international adoption by the orphanages was overwhelmingly female.  Although male children have been increasing in total numbers since 2000 (displaying a trajectory that one would expect from changes in Chinese culture on a macro level), the extremely high number of female submissions resulted in a gender ratio in excess of 90% female through 2005.

After the scandal, the number of female submissions declined substantially across China, while the number of male submissions held steady or increased.  This has resulted in the gender ratio falling, with the current ratio approaching parity.  Since male findings have increased, it is the sharp drop in female submissions that is driving this dramatic change in ratios.

2)  Prior to the scandal, special needs submissions were relatively rare, with over 95% of children adopted classed as "healthy".  With the decline in overall findings, and the push by the CCAA to submit "warehoused" special needs children, the number of special needs adoptions has increased dramatically, both in real numbers and as a percentage of total adoptions.  These increases are a result of orphanages submitting children found in prior years (increasing the average "lag time" between finding and finding ad publication), and an increase of findings overall.  In other words, orphanages are "finding" more special needs children now than before 2006.

There is no doubt that the collapse in adoptions from China after 2005 is a result of the Hunan scandal. Reasons proposed by members of the adoption community, including China's artificially reducing adoptions in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics, China's signing of the Hague Agreement, or the establishment of submissions quotas, lack any evidence.  Additionally, orphanage directors directly refute these notions, plainly stating that there is no limits imposed on orphanages on the number of children that can be submitted to the CCAA for adoption.  Steps taken by the CCAA since 2005 also contradict this idea.  The increase in adoption donation, the change in domestic adoption laws, the recent broadening of "orphan" definitions, are all intended to increase the number of children coming into orphanages for international adoption.  While adoptive families hear that the Chinese government is intent on lowering the number of children adopted, all of the evidence shows the opposite -- that the CCAA is desperately trying to increase the size (and revenue) of the program.

The only question that remains to answer is why the number of children found across China fell so sharply in December 2005 and February 2006.  Was it because orphanage directors realized that many of them were breaking the law, and stopped their incentive programs?  Or was it because the publicity surrounding the scandal actually altered the abandonment frequency across China?

We will save this question for a future essay.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Adoption Oral History Project

Oral histories form vital links to the past, both for individuals, cultures and communities. As our children grow up and begin reflecting on their life journeys, it will be of great worth to themselves and others to have their thoughts, as well as those of their family, preserved.

Jena Heath, an adoptive parent of a child from Guangdong Province and a professor of journalism, is working to assemble a "Storycorps of Chinese Adoption."  Our family was interviewed by her last weekend, and it was a fantastic experience.  Hearing my daughters's thoughts on their adoptions, what they hope for in their searches, and what they plan for their own lives, is an immensely important brick in their personal life stories. Quite simply, the recordings, in their own voices, are priceless to us.  

We strongly encourage you to contact Professor Heath to participate.  Her sensitivity, a result of her own family's experiences with adoption, will calm you. Her demeanor will put you and your family at total ease. And the interviews will help other adoptees and adoptive parents, as well as become a lasting legacy to your own family history.  

I am creating a digital audio archive of the stories of adoptees from China and their families. For the next year, at least, I will be traveling to talk with anyone who would like to share a personal adoption story – adoptees and their families. The goal is to create a place for adoptees to hear the direct, unmediated stories of others who share their experiences and to be able to document these stories for posterity. I am particularly interested in talking with adoptees who have searched for birth parents and with adoptive parents who have embarked on birth parent searches. I will launch the archive with the interviews/oral histories I collect over the next few months. Even better, however: The archive will also allow adoptees and their families to record and upload their stories themselves. For those of you who are NPR listeners, think of it as a kind of StoryCorps for the Chinese adoption community.

A bit about me: I am an associate professor of Journalism at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, who spent 20 years in newsrooms as a reporter and editor. My daughter, Caroline Chun, 9, came home from Yangchun, Guangdong Province, in 2008 a week after her second birthday. I helped launch Austin’s only public school Mandarin immersion language program and coordinated a Sister School relationship with my Xishuangbanna Yunjinghong Elementary School, in Yunnan Province.

If you would like to learn more about my project, please contact me at: If your FCC chapter or related organization is holding a Culture Camp, I’d love to attend to share more information.

Thank you,
Jena Heath