Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mirror, Mirror

Xin Yi is a bubbly, active five-year-old girl. Her short black hair and pudgy build bear a striking resemblance to her mother. I watch as she runs around, chasing butterflies, returning periodically to give her mom a hug, then flies off once again. She excels in school and, from all appearances, is a well-adjusted, happy girl.

Xin Yi was adopted in China by her family at two weeks old from the Huadu orphanage north of Guangzhou. Her family's story sheds a light on domestic adoption in China and illustrates the process many Chinese families go through to adopt a child.

The Huadu orphanage is a simple, two-story brick facility hidden behind a thick 10-foot wall next to one of Huadu's busiest streets. The facility currently cares for about 20 children, almost all special needs. They range in age from a few months to 16 years old. This orphanage adopts all its children domestically; it is not part of the international program. According to newspaper finding ads, in 2005 the Huadu orphanage adopted 29 children, 50% of whom were younger than a year old, the balance ranging from one year to 10 years old (for domestic adoptions, finding ads are placed when the child is adopted, not when they are found). There currently is a 12- to 18-month waiting list of families willing to adopt the most desirable children -- healthy baby infants. The orphanage adopts only to residents of Huadu because, according to Ms. Jiang, director of the orphanage, "There are not enough children to satisfy even those families."

That wasn't the case in 2001 when Jiang Lan came to this orphanage in January of that year with her husband and mother. A week before, her husband and his mother had visited the orphanage and surveyed the children available for adoption. As he looked down at an infant girl lying in her crib, she smiled. "This is my daughter," he spoke to his mother.

Jiang Lan and her husband had decided to adopt after having no biological children after three years of marriage. Orphanage directors I have spoken to indicate that nearly half of domestically adopting families are childless. The rest are families that have a grown child.

A week after Jiang Lan's visit with her husband, the orphanage allowed them to take Xin Yi home. "Take your time in deciding," they were told, "and bring her back if she is too much trouble." The orphanage went on to explain that they could keep her for a year before completing the adoption paperwork, a feature of Chinese adoptions that we might find peculiar. Two other families that adopted from a different orphanage confirmed that this was the case with them also, although all three families emphasized that at no time were they interested in taking the orphanage up on their offer to return the child to the orphanage.

Jiang Lan returned with her husband nearly a year later to complete the adoption. They brought with them an approval letter from their town's Family Planning office, stating that they had no other children. They also carried a letter from the town hospital confirming that they were healthy. Most other families also bring letters from their employers or other proof of income, as well as copies of the couple's identification cards. Jiang Lan and her husband made a 3,500 yuan ($425) "donation" to the Huadu orphanage, an amount in line with the orphanage's current 3,000 to 5,000 yuan fee.

Xin Yi does not know of her beginnings. We talk about the adoption only when she is out of hearing, and quickly shift topics when Xin Yi returns. Jiang Lan indicates that she will tell her "one day" when she is grown up. Additionally, no one outside of the immediate family knows of the adoption. When pressed why, Jiang Lan expressed concern that if Xin Yi's adoption became widely known, she would be picked on and belittled for being an orphan. Other adoptive families expressed concern that neighbors would look down on them for not being able to have biological children.

When asked if she ever thought about her daughter's birthmother, Jiang Lan states that she has no interest in ever meeting her. Other families feel the opposite, and indicated that if their child wanted, they would help one day in searching out the birth family.

Although Western couples often hear that the adoption process for Chinese couples is burdensome, when compared to that undergone by foreign adopting families it is remarkably simple. A trip to the Family Planning office to obtain the authorization letter is required, but costs little if anything. A health certification letter from an area hospital costs around 250 yuan per person. A proof of finances letter is obtained from the employer, but costs nothing. These three items, along with the couple's identification papers, are all that is required to approach the orphanage and begin the adoption process. The adoption process itself requires some simple paperwork, and the payment of the orphanage donation fee. The adoption is then registered with the local Civil Affair's office, which charges around 400 yuan for the "Adoption License", a small red book with a photograph of the the adopting parents and their new child. The simplicity of the domestic adoption process would make most Western families envious.

For the most part, families that adopt inside China keep the adoption a secret from most people outside the immediate family, and some indicate that they will keep it a secret even from their adopted child. All, however, clearly showed an abiding love and devotion to their adopted child, treating them as their own. Jiang Lan, in looking at her daughter running, softly said, "I never think of my daughter as adopted. For me, she is just like my own kid." In this respect, she and her fellow China adopters are just like their Western counterparts.


me said...

very nice

Anonymous said...

nice, but arent they our "own"

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a suggestion for saving Brian's blogs? Are you just copying and pasting them onto a word processing document, or is there a better way to do it? I would like to save the pictures too if possible.

Is this OK, Brian?

Donna said...

Hmmmm.....I don't understand why you removed my comment.

Scott and Karen said...

Jiang Lan, in looking at her daughter running, softly said, "I never think of my daughter as adopted. For me, she is just like my own kid." In this respect, she and her fellow China adopters are just like their Western counterparts.

Hmmm...don't really like the wording of your last sentence, Brian. I'm sure you didn't mean it to be offensive but I can vehemently tell you that I don't think of my daughter as " just like my own kid." She IS my own kid.

Would you ever look at your daughters and say "they are JUST LIKE my own kids?"

Thanks for listening, even when it's not the most popular opinion.

Karen P.

Research-China.Org said...

Didn't remove any comments. Please resubmit your comment Donna.

I understand the response to the "just like my own kid", but that is what she said and I don't feel comfortable changing it. That said, how would you have phrased it? In words, tell me what you would say to express that in your mind you feel no difference between your adopted child and a biological child?

Harry said...

In response to the person who asked about saving Brian's blogs, whenever I want to save something like this with text and photos, I use the "Scrapbook" extension in my Firefox browser.

Donna said...

Thanks, Brian. Maybe cyber space ate it! Wouldn't be the first time that's happened!

About the "my own" comment...

I have a child from birth and a child from adoption. I post on a bunch of message boards and I'm careful not to say "birth child" because that might imply that my adopted child wasn't "born". I can't say "bio child" because that implies that my adopted child is not "biological". I also post on IVF boards and I know that some women use a surrogate to carry their child so I try to be careful not to imply that you must carry a child inside you in order to be their "real" parent. Some women do have children from pregnancies resulting from donor egg and/or sperm so I can't say that having a genetic connection is the distinction between child I labor and deliver and one I adopt. It's really complicated! In the end, there's just no way to not offend people so I stopped worrying about it.

Obviously anyone who adopts and loves a child doesn't consider them less lovable than a child they gave birth to or contributed their own DNA to. Sometimes I think adoptive parents are too overly sensitive about these things. There might be people who do consider adopted kids to be 2nd class but I don't think it's adoptive parents feeling that way.


Scott and Karen said...

My DH is one of three children. His two siblings are adopted and he is not and I would introduce my daughter just like his mother introduces her [three] children. "Hi, my name is XYZ and these are my kids." Period.

May be overly sensitive but just as you and others have your opinions, I have mine.

Again, thanks for listening.


One Lucky Mom said...

Fascinating. Thank you for posting.

Personal opinion: Don't change quotes to make them politically correct. It says more to leave them as is.

Donna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Donna said...

Reposted to fix a typo :)

I have two kids and obviously I don't introduce them by saying "Here's the one I gave birth to and here's the one I adopted." How absurd would that be!

But sometimes it *is* necessary to make a distinction about how we came to be the parents of our children (like when we're discussing our fertility experiences or talking about adoption). In those instances, I've found that hyper sensitive people have caused everyone else to have to tiptoe around on egg shells searching for some words that can't inadvertently cause offense. It's not everyone, obviously, but I think some people just look for reasons to be offended.

Like Brian, I'd love to know how those people would express it.


shochikubailover said...


shochikubailover said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog about Chinese domestic adoption. I am currently looking into international adoption but I have serious concerns about it. For instance, I believe many people adopt because they want to help a child that no one else domestically can or will help. Your blog sheds light on the fact that there are willing Chinese couples who want to adopt. I have emailed these concerns to a Chinese adoption agency but have yet to hear a response. If someone wants to adopt because they are childless, then perhaps their main criteria is that they just want a child to love. I already have children but would like to help a child in need, I wonder if we foreigners start to compete with Chinese couples, an international tug of war over Chinese babies. And we are dealing with a country that does not share ideologies that we believe in (government responsible for human rights violations), and I am concerned about how these children come to be available for international adoption. It seems there is a huge demand for these babies because of our desire to help them, at what point are we doing more harm than good?

JoAnn Stringer said...

To the previous poster, welcome to the community of international adoption. But I would question your premise that MOST people adopt internationally because they want to HELP a child. My experience is that most people adopt internationally because they feel a need to start or add to their family. Domestic adoption in the U.S. is more restrictive (yes, I did try to adopt domestically first). If you are new to international adoption and China adoption in particular, I suggest you subscribe to the a-parents-china yahoo group and read what people write about their hopes, their dreams and their longing for a child to love. Also, read some of Brian's previous blog entries and the discussions that follow. There are more Chinese children without families than there are international families seeking to adopt them -- although Chinese domestic adoption is gaining in strength.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if it is possible for a Chinese citizen to legitimately give up a child for adoption instead of being forced to "abandon" the child? This would be a good thing to know when responding to an adoptive child's questions.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if it is possible for a Chinese citizen to legitimately give up a child for adoption instead of being forced to "abandon" the child? This would be a good thing to know when responding to an adoptive child's questions.

Robin said...

In response to the Chinese to legally give up their children for adoption, I am not sure. I do know that it is illegal in China to abandon your child and there are severe penalties for doing so.

Lisa said...

I find it quite amusing. Not in the plight of the orphans or in the need for families to adopt them. As an adoptee myself and a soon to be adoptive parent, I have come to realize something. China is where we Americans were when I was growing up. Adoption is ok as long as it is inconspicous (sp?). In other words blonde hair blue eye parents want blonde hair blue eye children-saves on all those messy questions later. I wish I could advise these parents that secrets never stay secret and the longer it is held the more hurtful it is for the child, because they always find out and it is rarely by the parents. Westerners have learned that and in time so will the Chinese.

My question is are adoptive Chinese families still subjected to the one child policy, as they didn't add to the population?

Research-China.Org said...

I agree that keeping adoption a secret is inevitably hurtful to the child, but the secrecy is not limited to the Chinese. Russia is a primary source of children in the U.S. precisely because the children look like the parents.

Families in China can adopt if they have no or one child. Thus, they are exempted from the one-child policy in that they are allowed a second child that normally they wouldn't be able to have.


Beeg said...

Prior to our adoption trip, many of my family members asked us whether we would keep it a secret from the child. I was surprised they asked this question, until I found out that a close relative, where both parents are Chinese, adopted two children from China and is keeping the adoption a secret from their children. My child will find out about it one day, and if I had kept it a secret, she would think that adoption must be a bad thing, or else mommy and daddy won't keep it a secret from me. I might as well be open to her as soon as she understands it, and show her how special she is to be adopted! Being a Chinese, I know that it will take years before Chinese people are open to the concept of adoption. Blood line is such a strong concept and it can take years before this view will change.

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