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.

Monday, March 27, 2006

China's Greatness, China's Weakness

The heat was stifling even on that mid-May morning. My wife and young daughter Meilan, with my wife's sister in tow, had made the short bus trip from Guangzhou to Foshan. Our destination was Foshan's "Zumiao Temple", the temple of the ancestors.

I had been there twice before, the first time on my first return trip to Guangdong after adopting Meikina in 2000. Whenever I return to Guangdong, I feel the need to come to this large and beautiful temple, in order to offer up a small prayer to the ancestors of my three daughters.

It isn't a prayer to them really, but more of a token offering of thought. I feel it my obligation to occasionally bring myself to stop and thank them for the three beautiful Chinese spirits that have been placed in my care, three children who are the culmination of the lives of all those that preceded them. I come to this temple to give quiet thanks, and to ponder how I can best bring an appreciation to my kids of the tremendous country from which they sprang.

My family feels I have an irrational affection for China. Like an imperfect spouse, I speak proudly of the things I love about China, and quietly ignore her failings. It is not that I am not aware of them, but I simply seek to convey to my children at every turn that they can be proud of their heritage, that China is a wonderful country, and that those who came before them accomplished things that few other nations ever could.

In the six years that I have been researching in China, I have come to notice and appreciate the sometimes vast cultural differences between China and my own homeland, the United States. In studying and gaining insight into China's people and history, I have gained an ever-increasing respect for China's greatness, but also an increased appreciation for the land in which I live.

One of the most noticeable differences between China and the United States involves the attitudes of each government towards its citizens. As I have researched and traveled throughout much of China, I frequently sense an almost palpable fear on the part of the Chinese for their government. This is most apparent when dealing with the police. Whereas in the United States we are taught from our youngest days to trust the police, in China it is often just the opposite. Few in China trust the police. Often, the police abuse their positions of power to take unfair advantage of the citizens.

One recent case, published widely in Chinese newspapers, serves to illustrate. She Xiang Lin was a policeman in Hubei province. In January 1994, his wife disappeared, and her family suspected she had been murdered by her husband. They exerted tremendous pressure on the police to arrest the husband for murder, and when a badly decomposed body was found in April, the husband was arrested. After a series of beatings, he confessed to killing his wife. He was sentenced to death, a sentence that was later commuted to 15 years in prison.

In April, his wife returned to the village with her new husband, apparently not dead after all. Everyone involved urged the immediate release of her former husband, who had by this time served over eleven years in a brutal prison. The police, who had apparently coerced a confession from the husband through repeated beatings, are now trying to decide whose body was found in the first place.

These type of stories are myriad. For the most part, members of government are seen as self-serving, corrupt people. The officials do little to dispel this notion, as a trip into any village or town will attest. In the little town of Maogang (south of Maoming, Guangdong Province) for example, the city government offices are housed in a building that is on the scale of the Mirage resort in Las Vegas – huge, palatial and completely unnecessary, except to increase their perceived stature in the community and among the citizens. All around farmers scrap to make an existence, but the government officials drive their nice cars and work in their windowed offices in the palace on the hill.

The United States, for all its political weaknesses, has at least this of which it can boast – its government is ultimately responsible to the people. Its system of checks and balances, combined with the Constitutionally protected free press, create an attitude of accountability to the citizens which China's government lacks. The Chinese are dumbstruck when they see high governmental officials in the U.S. being brought down by the press, for if a newspaper published reports of corruption in China it would be destroyed. In one country you have trust and confidence, in the other distrust and fear.

This is manifested by the high degree of fear and distrust that I encounter while researching. Although many directors are intellectually committed to helping the children they have cared for, they are nevertheless fearsome of reprisals from those above them. Additionally, they are afraid that those in their own ranks will report them to their superiors. The entire governmental structure in China is held together by a glue of fear and insecurity.

But the absence of a free press in China means that graft and corruption usually goes unexposed and unpunished. Applicants for many government jobs willingly pay huge sums in "application fees" knowing that the access gained by their new positions will bring great returns on their investment. Growing dissatisfaction among China's rural communities is kept hidden. The rebellion in December by farmers in Guangdong Province in which 20 village citizens were seriously injured by police went totally unreported in the Chinese press. The Chinese government reports that 87,000 such "disturbances" occurred in 2005 alone.

Things are changing, however. China seems tentatively committed to eradicating the enormous graft and corruption problem that has plagued its system for generations. The fact that the wrongly-convicted man's story made headlines throughout China shows that greater leeway is being given the press. The internet, no matter how hard the government attempts to limit its access, is granting the Chinese an unprecedented look into the outside world. A few months ago I spied a youth wearing a t-shirt with the words, "Liberty and Justice for all".

The question is whether the change is coming fast enough. Whenever I discuss with the Chinese the benefits of their government, they grow angry and shout how much they hate their government. It seems that especially in the countryside the people are like a pot of water heated to 211 degrees. The question is whether change will come before a small spark pushes the pot to boiling.

As I sat in the temple contemplating the many aspects of Chinese history and culture, my mind gave thanks to the contributions China has made to the world. My mind reflects on the China in the early fifteenth century, when its civilization was expanding, and its technological abilities were unsurpassed. Then a visionary emperor sent forth his huge naval ships to explore and open trade routes to the entire world. The seven voyages of Zheng He showcased China's capabilities, and placed China in the position to become the world's super-power.

But a storm and fire in Beijing changed all that. The emperor's expansionist policies were viewed as having offended the gods, and he died in exile. The next emperor destroyed the records of Zheng He's journeys (which some believe brought the Chinese to America 70 years before Columbus), and turned China inward. It would remain so for five hundred years. As I stand in front of the golden Buddha, my heart breaks at the loss of potential that China suffered by the actions of that one man.

I love China. I love all that is good, all that is great about her. I love her rich culture, and immense history. I love her emphasis on family, with families living in close proximity together for generations. I love watching grandparents play with their small grand kids, and communities gathering together for festivals. I love the thousands of men and women who lived and died to bring my daughters to life, and into my family. Thus, I return annually to pay them respect in an ancient temple in Foshan.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What do we really know?

One of the difficult aspects of China and its orphan problem is that the subject is shrouded officially in a fog of secrecy. The government releases few hard numbers, and orphanage staff is told not to discuss the topic with outsiders. Therefore, it might be useful to discuss what we actually can find out about such topics as orphanages, number of children abandoned, numbers adopted, etc.

Little hard data are available from the Chinese government on the numbers of children abandoned each year, how many are adopted, and how many live in the orphanages, so many people and organizations have put forth assertions in the past. These guestimates have ranged all over the place. But all of them are just that, educated guesses based on perceptions. No one knows.

We can gain some answers through secondary sources. I use the placement of finding ads as one indicator. But in most Provinces (Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi, etc.) the finding ads are placed in the Provincial newspapers only when the child has been placed with the CCAA for international adoption. Does a decline in ad placement indicate fewer children being found, or that domestic adoption is increasing, or both? One cannot be sure.

Another potential source of empirical data is the newspapers that contain the domestic adoption finding ads. These are usually small local papers, not the Provincial newspapers used for the international adoption ads. Thus, they are much harder to locate and collect. These also have limitations, becasue a finding ad is placed for a domestically adopted child only when they are adopted, not when they are found. Thus, there is an element of uncertainty there.

So one must augment this data with observations made on the ground -- in the orphanages. By visiting a particular orphanage one sometimes can tell if numbers are high or low. One can ask the director, for example, if abandoments are rising, falling or constant.

Sometimes one can get good empirical numbers using all three sources. More frequently one can get them from two. Usually only one source is available. By collecting as many of these datapoints as possible, assertions can start to be drawn.

JoAnne is right on with her desire to bring many eyes to the discussion (see comments to my "What Can We Learn from Hunan" blog). I am only one person travelling around China. There are many others. It would be great to have them also collect and publish data on this subject. Unfortunately, most have a vested interest to avoid discussing this topic in order to not upset the CCAA or the Chinese government. One can understand this, although it is unfortunate.

As has been pointed out many times, I am just one person who happens to visit a lot of orphanages. I am taking what I see from the three sources listed above and adding it to any other information that can be obtained (interviews with people, newspaper articles, etc.) and trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are missing, but the picture I am seeing shows that things are changing in China. The picture that I am seeing causes me to question (not abandon!) previously assumed facts and ideas. But it pushes me forward, and makes me hungry to gather more information, and try to bring this murky picture that is China into sharper focus. I welcome any that can assist me in this endeavor.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What We Can Learn from Hunan

Discussions on A-P-C and elsewhere show that tremendously important lessons can be learned from the events recently concluded in Hunan Province. It might do well to summarize what we have learned and the lessons we can take away from this event.

Most adoptive families choose China as a result of the perception that there are "thousands" of unwanted children languishing in the orphanages. The events in Hunan, and a growing body of other evidence, clearly show that this is not the case, at least in the case of those orphanages that participate in the international adoption program.

At its foundation, the Hunan story centered on a director who sought to purchase young children to increase adoption fees to his own orphanage and the orphanages in his immediate area. We can debate the reasons he did this, whether it was to line his own pockets or to get enough money to improve the facility he ran; but the bottom line is he wanted more money.

Parents can take comfort in the fact that the children were trafficked from Wuchuan (Guangdong) to Hunan, and not from Wuchuan to the Wuchuan orphanage. It seems likely these traffickers contacted the large orphanages in Wuchuan and Zhanjiang, because directors in Guangdong have confirmed to me that they have been contacted in the past (it is not known if the traffickers were the same ones involved in this story). So it seems, at least anecdotally, that most directors wished no part of a baby-trafficking program. As one director recounted her response, "We will take in all babies that are abandoned, but we will not pay for them."

But a few directors decided to take them. Why? If there are so many unwanted children being found, what is the incentive for these orphanages to take in more children? Because it is becoming clear that the number of healthy baby girls being abandoned is falling, at the same time demand for these children is increasing.

One would have to travel several times to China to gain an appreciation how quickly things are changing here. On my first trip to rural DianBai (Guangdong) six years ago, I had to prepare for the trip by bringing my own cash, my own laptop (usable only with dial-up), and expect to eat only Chinese food. The only hotel was at the end of the main street and had little heating and no hot water. The stores were limited to small shops along the main street. It was a small town in the backwoods of China.

Today, DianBai has transformed itself. On my last visit, I found four Bank of China branches with ATMs, I ate in Western restaurants, stayed in a three-star hotel with in-room high speed internet, and showered in blistering hot water. I walked their new shopping mall filled with designer clothing shops, electronics, and other modern conveniences.

I see this transformation occurring wherever I travel. I am about ready to name the building crane China's national bird.

This transformation is having a dramatic affect on the number of children abandoned in China. Nearly every orphanage director I speak with confirms that the number of children being found is falling. This is due to two forces: increased ability to pay the fines associated with illegally birthed children and decreasing traditionalism, which bestows a preference on boys.

The increased affluency would lead to an increase in the domestic demand for children, as more couples are able to afford to adopt a child. Thus, domestic adoption rates are probably increasing, at the same time international demand climbs, and the number of children found is decreasing.

This creates the perfect storm found in Hengyang, and explains why a director would buy babies.

A Chinese couple wanting a child has four options for obtaining a child. Frequently, if they live in the countryside, word is put out that they are interested in adopting an unwanted child, and often a match is made with another couple. A friend of mine recently experienced this first-hand as her husband's mother let is be known that my friend and her husband were interested in a son (they had an adopted daughter, and in fact were happy, but the mother-in-law felt otherwise). Within a year, the husband's mother was told of a couple who wanted a girl but were pregnant with a boy (not every unwanted child is a girl!). My friend declined the child, but this case illustrates a primary method employed to locate a child.

Another way for wealthier families to obtain a child is through contacting an orphanage. Since adoption fees in even non-internationally adopting orphanages are often in the range of 3-5,000 yuan ($400-700 USD), one must be firmly middle-class to afford this route. But clearly more and more families are finding this as an acceptable way to build a family (I will be detailing the stories of three adoptive families from China in a future blog).

Families who lack financial means and social status are left with only two alternatives: buying a baby from a trafficker and kidnapping one. Baby trafficking is common in China, as the Hunan story illustrates. What must be remembered is that Liang Guihong, the Wuchuan woman responsible for collecting the trafficked children, had been performing "adoptive" services for nearly a decade, finding homes for the unwanted children that were brought to her.

As adoptive parents, we must realize that all of the trafficking and kidnapping stories we read about deal with one common theme: They all are driven by families in China who wish to have children.

We must realize that for the most part, the days of healthy, unwanted children staying in orphanages for long periods of time is over. Anecdotal evidence such as visits to orphanages "full of children" supply scant evidence, because tghe processing time from finding to international adoption is usually a minimum of eight months, and can often take up to 18 months. Healthy babies seen on orphanage visits are almost certainly at some point of the international adoption process.

There are a large number of children found, but again that has no bearing on the supply of available children in the orphanages unless the domestic and international adoption rates is also known. Eventually, if it hasn't already, the domestic demand for children will overtake supply, and it will be time to terminate China's international adoption program. Are we prepared for that day?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The End of the Hunan Story?

The CCAA has announced the results of its investigation into the Hunan baby-trafficking case. The CCAA has been under pressure from the U.S. State Department to show that children involved in the international adoption program were not being abducted.

Many parents are probably relieved, as the news announcement states that none of these children were adopted by Americans.

Unfortunately, that is not what the CCAA said, and it is not true.

The first two paragraphs of the press release are the reporter's summary, and are not part of the CCAA's words. In other words, they don't mean anything.

The CCAA (through a State Department Spokesperson) said only the following:

"The CCAA informed us that it had concluded its investigation into all of the children from Hengyang adopted by Americans and found that all of these children were legitimately orphaned or abandoned and that there are no biological parents searching for them."

So, the CCAA is clearly stating that none of the children adopted by Americans were abducted, and have birth parents looking for them. Many of us have known this already.

It is not saying (in fact, its choice of wording suggests otherwise) that no children involved in the Hunan case were adopted by Americans. The message is abduction verses trafficked.

There is overwhelming evidence to show that children trafficked from Guangdong to Hunan WERE adopted by Americans. As Peter Goodman pointed out in his article, the Hengyang County orphanage began international adoptions in November 2004. From November 2004 through September 2005, it reported between 0 and 6 children monthly in the form of finding ads (a precursor to submitting a child to the CCAA for international adoption). In October 2005, Hengyang County submitted 29 finding ads, a 400% increase over its highest previous monthly submission. The next month the story broke.

Additionally, Goodman and others have reported that individuals involved in the case confirm that these children were adopted internationally. If one reads the CCAA's press release with the understanding that these children were willingly reliquished by their birthparents to a woman that trafficked them to Hunan, where they were adopted by Americans, one sees that the CCAA is only denying that the children were abducted.

In the final analysis, we are all left to believe what we wish to.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On-the-Record, Off-the-Record

I want to clarify one point in my letter to the Washington Post. Peter Goodman and I had a phone conversation concerning the Hunan trial. At no time did he, or I, state or promise that our conversation was not on-the-record. He did not violate his journalistic integrity in any way by quoting my words. My statement was made after the question-answer portion at the beginning of the interview, and given my inexperience in these matters, I was no longer "on guard" and spoke with less articulation. I apologize for the confusion on this point.

A Letter to the Washington Post

The following letter was e-mailed this morning to the editor of the Washington Post.

Sunday's article by Peter Goodman ("With U.S. Couples Eager to Adopt, Some Infants Are Abducted and Sold in China") artfully weaves several issues in China into one inaccurate construction that impunes the motives of adopting Americans, and the orphanages from which their children come.

Goodman begins by detailing the tragic abduction of a child from the streets of Dongguan in Guangdong Province. He artfully transitions to China's adoption program, leading readers to conclude that somehow the seven month old girl had been kidnapped to satisfy an adopting American family.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to establish this link, and in fact considerable evidence to disprove it. By Goodman's own admission, 50,000 children were adopted to the U.S. since 1992, an average of 4,000 per year. I suppose Goodman proposes that these 4,000 children represent a significant number of China's 1.2 billion people to result in kidnapping rings to develop, but the sad reality is that annually an estimated 250,000 children (mostly girls) are abandoned in China, 35,000 of which end up in China's foreign adoption program. One can readily see that there is no shortage of adoptable children.

The trials of those involved in the Hunan baby-trafficking ring all testified that the children involved were unwanted newborns willingly relinquished by their birthparents. Defense testimony by Police and other witnesses confirm this. No lost child reports, no response to found baby newspaper notices. Goodman makes some sweaping generalizations, inaccurate assumptions, and faulty reasoning to falsely assert that the international adoption program is contributing to child abductions in China.

Additionally, he erroneously quotes me as asserting that the Chinese orphanage program is "a corrupt system. . . driven by money, and there's no check and balance to the greed." This statement was made in what I thought was an off-the-record conversation discussing China's governmental structure, not its adoption program. I have frequently and publicly written that I believe the Chinese adoption prgram to be one of the most ethically run in the world. A family leaving the U.S. knows who their child will be, exactly what fees will be paid, and where they will be on any given day while in China. Few other international programs run this predictably and effeciently.

Goodman also anonymously attributes to a "Western aid worker " a quote that proposes that few of the donation dollars given by adoptive families and other NGOs actually reach the children. This is patently false to anyone who has visited orphanages over the last few years. Whereas orphanage facilities in the early 90s were most often housed in small, unheated adobe or brick buildings, today nearly every orphanage is housed in third-generation modern facilities, many with medical and educational facilities on site. These orphanages are often located next to facilities for the aged, to allow a symbiotic relationship to develop between the elderly and the young. Contrary to Goodman's assertion, a more engaging argument could be made that China is over-investing in their orphanage system, given China's declining abandonment rates. This decline can be attributed to China's increasing personal wealth, as well as the passing of male-preference traditions in its culture.

Goodman also falsely characterizes the American families that come to China to adopt, portraying them as almost being on a shopping expedition, being ferried "to sightseeing spots in Beijing", and walking streets "thick with stroller-rental shops and silk baby outfits embossed with traditional Chinese logos." This characature belies the fact that most adopting families try to experience, in the short time made available, as much of their child's Chinese heritage as possible. All have spent more than a year preparing the paperwork required by both the U.S. and Chinese governments, and paid significant fees to both governments. For most, the adoption trip is an emotional and spiritual experience, and are deeply offended to have it portrayed as a shopping excursion.

Goodman's article does a disservice to almost everyone involved in the Chinese adoption program. There is little doubt that the adoption of Chinese children by foreigners has altered the perceived value of these children, but to falsely assert, with no substantiating evidence, that these families are fostering kidnapping rings in China to satisfy their parental urges does a disservice to them, and the legacy of their children.

Brian H. Stuy
Guangzhou, China

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Regular Firefight

The Hunan story obviously touches a very raw nerve with families, and I can completely understand all of the emotion around this story. There are several possible responses that most people have when confronted with contradictory information on firmly held beliefs (whether religious, political, or in this case, concerning the adoption of their child): Accept the information and modify a belief; seek to negate the new information by impuning the character and motives of the messenger; test the new information against previously available knowledge, or conduct personal research.

Most adoptive parents (including myself at one time) cling to the following paradigm: China has a large number of abandoned girls due to a collision between a cultural bias and the one-child policy. These children will remain in a Chinese orphanage until they grow up unless adopted. A child that grows up in an orphanage has no social standing, and therefore will probably not get married, may have to resort to prostitution for employment, and therefore will have a miserable life. Thus, by adopting a Chinese girl, one is providing a much-needed home to a person that otherwise would live an unhappy life. It is truly a win-win situation.

Anytime someone attacks this paradigm with contradictory information, adoptive families are forced to reconcile that new information through the processes described above. Some accept the new information gratefully, others strike out and try to impune the writer's motives; others do research to test the veracity of the new information. In the case of the Washington Post article and this blog, one can see all of the methods employed.

But my motives and "credentials" are relevant to any comments or observations I make, so I have no problem describing them. As any "Google" search will clearly show, I have been conducting research for over a decade, including publishing in Utah history, Mormonism (my prior religious belief-system) and most recently China. I conducted my first research project in 2000, and have visited over 60 orphanages since then. While conducting my trips I tenaciously investigate the thoughts and opinions of the directors, caregivers, foster families, taxi drivers, shop-keepers, and anyone else I think may have experience or knowledge about China that is relevant to my families. So, since little is "offically" available concerning these topics, I must say that my experience with the above people is my primary data source. That, and being involved with an opinionated native Chinese woman for two years, and having walked the adoption road three times in various ways.

When I first offered finding ads to families, no one had seen one. The CCAA prevented their distribution to adoptive families, and even though I had just paid my finding ad fee for Meigon's adoption, I was denied a copy by her orphanage. Through the years I have sought out and obtained the ads (over a quarter million ads if one must know) from almost every Province that is involved with international adoption. After I began offering the ads, the CCAA instructed the orphanages to begin giving the families copies of their child's ad in an attempt to destroy my market. In the intervening four years, families have gone from receiving no ads to demanding high-quality reproductions and the actual papers the ads appear in. We have come a long way.

Finding ads are a business for me and my family. I have had families complain that I should offer these ads for free to families, but it appears no one is willing to pay my airfare to China and my expenses to travel to the various Provinces to locate the ads.

I do visit orphanages, and have always attempted to do my projects as cheaply as possible. Other organizations exist that do finding location photographing, but most families have found them to be expensive. I charge the costs of travel to photograph and videotape a finding location, visit with orphanage personel, interview foster families and finders, and basically get as much information as possible about the child I am researching. NO ONE does that service, and NO ONE charges so little. I do offer the orphanage DVD to any family interested for $25, not much considering the cost of small-volume reproduction and shipping.

But my business isn't the core issue here, it is the "adoption paradigm" outlined above. The problem is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of all this -- yes, adoptive families are providing homes for children that probably wouldn't be adopted if they remained in China. Conversely, not every child adopted internationally would have remained in an orphanage. Many would be adopted domestically. The international adoption program has altered the dynamics of domestic adoption in China. Children adopted internationally would have gone to domestic homes is they had not been adopted by a Western couple. All of them? No. Most of them? Probably not. So, one can't advocate stopping the international adoption program because there is no doubt that would result in many children remaining in the orphanages. But as adoptive families we must realize that our program is impacting adoption by Chinese families. The solution to this problem I believe I have already proposed.

I am an adoptive father of three children that wants simply to know the truth concerning their history, their heritage and their birth families. It is a mission for me. I am programmed to ask "why" in everything. It is a wonderful journey, and I try to present my findings to others. I publish my blog so that others are freely able to comment, criticize or add-to my findings. It is the ultimate democratic tool. Am I a professional? No, I don't think so. Just a person who has "been on the ground" more than probably anyone else. I offer my layman's observations. Of, and just to settle this once and for all, I do not claim to speak for all adoptive families. I'm not even sure I speak for most of them. I speak for myself, but do try to make that voice heard.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Washington Post

Sunday saw the publication of another article dealing with the Hunan baby-trafficking story, one that is intended to convince adoptive families that their child was possibly abducted instead of abandoned, and that foreign adoption is the root of the problem of child abductions in China.

Since I assisted Peter Goodman in the researching of his article, let me start by saying that Peter's article is accurate in presenting information on several disturbing trends in Chinese culture. Children are regularly abducted in China. The newspapers are filled with stories of missing children. There is no doubt that the episodes he describes in his article happened.

Second, it is a fact that the foreign adoption program has had a huge impact on the "value" of infant children in the Chinese orphanages. As I described in "The Finances of Baby-Trafficking", the orphanages that deal with foreign adopting families have made it more difficult for domestic families to adopt. As hard as one tries to refute these points, they are fact.

However, Peter tries to connect dots in the story that I feel can't be connected. Neither of the children profiled in his story ended up in an orphanage. None of the evidence (except for the Government-issued verdict, which is not evidence) in the trial of the participants in the Hengyang County trafficking case suggested that the children were abducted. In fact, ALL involved insisted they were not. Nevertheless, Peter boldly asserts (including in the title to his piece) that abducted children were adopted internationally. This is speculation, unsupported by fact.

I have spoken with directors of orphanages who have confirmed that they too have been approached by traffickers offering infants for sale. A Google search of the trafficking stories in China over the past few years reveals a common M.O. for traffickers -- contacting a trusted local representative, often a doctor in a birthing hospital. This person solicits birth parents that do not wish to keep their newborn child. The birth parents are told that contacts have been made to find their child a good home. The birth parents relinquish their child, since their alternatives are abandoning the child themselves, or keeping an unwanted child.

The traffickers then "adopt" the child for a fee to domestic couples that badly want children, or in this case to hungry orphanages that wish to increase their revenue through international adoption.

Some people in China seek to bypass even that system and abduct children from the streets.

To put this bluntly -- there are many, many available unwanted children in China. When one looks at the finding ads for the cities that do international adoptions, frequently one sees abandonment patterns that reveal "hot spots" -- Huangpo Town in Wuchuan and Zhanjiang cities in Guangdong(and the likely origin of the Hunan children); the Daiyutai area of Huainan City in Anhui. It seems that most cities have areas that are poor, uneducated, and locations of frequent findings. An enterprising or compassionate individual could easily establish a network of collecting some of these children and trafficking them to couples or orphanages. This is precisely what Liang Guihong swears she did.

I appreciate Peter's reporting. But I take exception to his weaving of two issues to make it appear that they are one. Lisa Ling did the same thing in her National Geographic piece in dealing with female abduction. Yes, children are abducted in China; yes, trafficked babies were adopted by international families; no, there is no evidence that abducted children were adopted by international families. Those dots cannot be convincingly connected.

P.S. -- My "It's a corrupt system" comment was made in the context of local Chinese government, not specifically about the orphanage program. As I have written in the past, I personally feel that the orphanage program is over-all fairly honest. Yes, directors skim funds from the adoption fees, some more than others. But in the context of overall Chinese society, which is filled with graft and corruption on the government level, it is almost expected that directors would do this. However, I am amazed by the number of directors I meet that are honest and selfless. They truly seek the best interests of the kids.

Additionally, China has recently made bold announcements of change in their orphanage program. These changes involve closer scrutiny of those in places of leadership in the orphanages. This is well and good, but the single most effective step that could be taken is the imposition of a quota system on each individual orphanage. Only by destroying the "each child is $3,000" mentality will orphanage trafficking ever truly stop.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Future Leaders of China

As I stood watching the children in this small, rural orphanage, I suddenly heard a commotion coming from the baby room's door. Turning, I was surprised to see a small crowd of High School students, many dressed smartly in their school uniforms, entering the room with bags of candy and fruit. They were as puzzled by my presence as I was by theirs. They quickly dispersed into the room, each student searching out a small child to introduce themselves to, and to engage in a simple conversation or game of play.

I watched one of the eighteen students as they knelt beside a small boy, his smile marred by his severe cleft pallet. The little boy gazed into the face of the the girl as she addressed him, sang some songs, and gave him a small treat. He beamed. Another student walked over to a nearby crib, a newborn infant lying in some blankets, and began to gingerly stroke its hands. The backlighting on the student and infant produced a solemn effect of intimacy and connection, two hands touching in a quiet and peaceful gesture.

I approached one of the students and introduced myself. "Why are you here today?" I asked her, "Today is Sunday, a school holiday, is it not?" She explained that all of these students were in her class, and that today was "The Day of Lei Feng". "We have come here to help the orphans, to give something back to our community."

Lei Feng Day was first announced by the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong forty-one years ago today. Lei was an altruistic soldier who selflessly devoted his life to others, assuming a life of simplicity and poverty for himself. He died tragicly in a truck accident in 1962 at the age of twenty-two.

Each year in China thousands of students perform acts of service for others to celebrate the life of Lei Feng. Some visit the aged in rest homes, cleaning rooms and giving baths. Others pick up trash and do recycling programs. Today, as I watched, eighteen students knelt in front of two scores of orphaned children and sang, talked, and laughed with them. The children beamed, full of pride and excitement at being the center of such lavish attention.

It is difficult to describe, let alone quantify the changing attitudes of China's youth. In contrast to their grandparents that hold tenatiously to dying traditions of patriarchy, the youth of today sport cell phones, IM endlessly on computers in one of the many cyber cafes located in each town and village, and watch pirated Western movies in their homes. Decried by their elders as often slothful and disrespectful, the rising generation displays a progressive and open-minded attitude towards themselves, their country and the world. As this generation assumes control of the political structure in China, I have no doubt that phenominal and dramatic changes will occur.

"May I ask you a question?" a male student asked me as I watched the action around me. "What should society do about the disabled?" The question was so unexpected that I did not know how to answer articulately, but uttered something about providing opportunities. I was, however, impressed that this student was asking these types of questions. What is our responsibily indeed! As these students interact with these children in this orphanage, no doubt they will take home images of the faces and smiles much like I do. As they mature and become influencial in Chinese society, they will work for change. I am certain few of them will contribute to the problem of abandoned children.

Today I saw China's future, and it is bright. Perhaps in a decade or two I will return to this place, and take a tour of a cultural artifact that one stood here. Perhaps, in that day, a progressive and powerful culture will have risen and taken its place among the noble and best of the world's civilizations.