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.


Anonymous said...

This is the place I come most often because there is so little else printed anywhere. I don't know what's true completely because it seems so difficult to get the facts. I think you've been open and honest about not claiming to be an expert, about saying you are one person and listing what your connections to China are and aren't. So, for all of these reasons I appreciate your posts and your willingness to continually give views about this topic when you clearly get mixed reviews for doing so.

Anonymous said...

This latest post (as well as others) shows you approaching your topic without arrogance, but instead with an open heart, wanting to learn and understand and share. This perspective will continue to draw people to you who will be willing to share the information you desire because you come with humility, patience, and compassion. I think the last time I checked your website, your blog link was titled, "my personal essays," which implies this is your blog, these are your personal essays recording your journey in understanding a part of your girls' stories. The fact that you choose to respond to comments at all shows you're reflective and flexible in your thinking, while also wanting to be responsible with the knowledge you've gained. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Here's one little data point, fwiw -- sorry if i've put this here before, Brian, can't remember where all i've told this story.

We visited the nanchang orphanage last August as part of a homeland visit; my older dau was adopted at the swi in Aug 97. We were able to talk with both ms. Tan (the director) and ms. chen (the longtime former director who headed the place at the time we were there). We were surprised how empty the big place seemed -- we saw maybe 50 or 60 kids total there, including i'd say 20 newly found ones and the rest special needs kids or older kids living in the group home. Ms. Tan said the swi is now "in charge" of around 150 kids, including those living in foster care and presumably in line for intl adoption. At the time of our adoption in 97 they were responsible for a whopping 400 kids. Conditions were bad, the kids we adoped were half-starved (literally), and paperwork from that era (such as finding ads) is apparently nonexistent.

We asked Ms. Tan why the big drop and she told us point blank -- better times, fewer kids being abandoned around there.

I have heard however that in some places there are still gobs of nsn kids in orphanages (for instance, someone at apc who'd recently been to Chongqing said the place was full). I can imagine some of this would vary a good deal depending on the local economic situation.

But I have to tell you I was pretty shocked what I saw in Nanchang, in terms of how relatively few kids they are caring for at present, compared with 9 years ago. Because the Nanchang SWI has historically been a big, big place and has submitted many, many kids for international adoption....
Julie H

Anonymous said...

Roberta properly noted an attitude of humility in this recent post, and I agree.

In the past when you have posted things such as Hunan has closed to adoptions, it has set off a flurry of uncertainty and concern amongst many. Then when it is found to not be true, your credibility is diminished.

I don't know what you can do differently - perhaps use better care with the words you choose, as in, "A source at an orphanage in Hunan told me that orphanages in Hunan are now shut" would help.

When you speak in absolutes (not in this post), it sets you up when it doesn't happen. Good journalists (and I know you're not a journalist) will say things such as "an unnamed source at the Pentagon" has reported . . .

And maybe you're better served to return to the prior blog title that Roberta mentioned. The benefit of that is you're not setting yourself up as a researcher (current blog title) and as an 'authority,' but rather indicating that these are your personal essays based upon what you have seen and heard. It is a nuanced difference, but a significant one.

Perhaps, though, you do want to be recognized as a researcher and an authority, hence, your cooperation with journalists such as Goodman.
I don't know.

You have expressed concern that I am out to discredit you and that perhaps I have a personal vendetta. Not at all. Just looking for what the truth is and when there are inconsistencies in the things that YOU say, it's difficult to know what, if anything, is true. By that, I do not mean the logical inconsistency that occurs if one reports that Person A said this, but Person B contradicted it. Rather I am referring to your own personal inconsistencies.

Granted, it's going to be murky due to the lack of real data, but I think you can do better by exercising more care with your words.

I'm just another adoptive parent who cares. I'm not about vendettas. I am troubled, though, by the pit bull attacks of those who are so loyal to you. I am troubled that you apparently were so threatened by genuine questions, conveyed in a respectful manner, to such a degree that you removed my posts.

I'll say it again - true research DOES welcome hard questions. It welcomes the fresh air that challenges bring. I hope you will become more open to that, and I hope your supporters will recognize that individuals asking genuine questions does not equate to an attack. Indeed, the only personal attacks on your blog were directed to me. I would hope you would abhor that.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jenna, excellent and wise post. Much better than anything I could put together. I totally agree with you that there are ravenous pit bulls out there, which are really a menace to Brian's blog. I am much more deserving of their bullying than Jenna.

Brian mentioned that he is trying "to bring this murky picture that is China into sharper focus. I welcome any that can assist me in this endeavor."

You say you need people to help you to bring China into focus, but IMHO, the important point is the implication - bringing China into focus for YOU.

Perhaps this is the reason why many have a vested interest in not sharing data, or why the CCAA or orphanage staff might not want to discuss this with you.

Maybe it's not about you.

TRUTH and ANSWERS are perhaps not meant for you to find. Perhaps they are only meant for our precious daughters to find on their own. Or perhaps they need to remain hidden for now for the sake of those children who are yet to be united with their forever family.

I know (and believe me, I know) that you want to explore your daughter's beginnings, to gain a better understanding and more complete picture to provide to them. But have you asked them what they want? I bet I know what they'd say if you gave them a choice between "Hey, would you like to go with daddy to get an ice cream cone" vs. "Hey, would you like me to leave you for two weeks to go to China". (However, I know the answer to that question will be different for a 5 year old girl vs. the same girl 13 years later who has a big date on a Saturday night).

I personally thank you for the hard data on your blog (although a bit tough to weed out and find), combined with your heartfelt takes on life, adoption, and abandonment, which I will place in our daughter's lifebook under the heading "An adoptive dad's adventures in China 2006".

I know many other families are very thankful for this information as well.

I really hope you find the answers which lead you out of your murk.

I also know of amazing help that is available from a very low-cost source. You're looking at it. At last count, I think there's approximately 1.4 kajillion webpages of information containing facts (at least as good as can be found here) regarding adoption in China, put there by people whose only goal is to selflessly share information. About 95% percent the information on adoption is totally free, but just to warn ya, there are some folks out there that have actually turned the internet into a money making tool, and some good information/"truth" might cost ya upwards of $35 to get.

But if you run into those websites, I'd advise against giving any money. IMHO, I'll take my $35 and spend it on the biggest ice cream cone I can find, and spend the evening with my 4 year old, pondering why Captain Feathersword's eyepatch changes sides in different scenes.

THAT's the only truth I need to find.

Research-China.Org said...

"I'm With Jenna" clearly articulates the attitudes of a minority of adoptive parents -- if my daughter wants to gain information about her birth, orphanage stay, etc., let her perform that search herself.

In a country like the U.S., that would be possible. Records are kept, buildings remain, people remain visible. But in China, it is not possible.

As an adoptive father, I look at this from a risk-reward position --what is my risk of non-performance? If I could have interviewed a "finder" that may have known her birth parents, but don't, what will I tell my daughter a decade from now when she asks me why? Or if she asks me to tell her about where she was found, and I am forced to admit I never attempted to find out? To obtain this information requires little, the failure to obtain it has potentially significant ramifications.

So, "I'm With Jenna", go on with your ice cream cones. I hope the tale of your eating them will bring comfort to your children the day they ask you to tell them about their lives in China.


Anonymous said...

Send me the DVD for free. Then I can have the ice cream cone AND the information.

Ahh, but "the truth comes at a price".

THAT's what I'll be telling my daughter when that day comes.

I know that's what your daughters will know, when they remember those weeks of their childhood without their father.

But you're right, you have a gamble on your hands. I appreciate your kind wishes for me. And I hope that years hence, your daughters will look you in the eye and tell you that your personal search was worth them.

(oh I feel the pit bulls decending upon me...)

Anonymous said...

At last count, I think there's approximately 1.4 kajillion webpages of information containing facts (at least as good as can be found here) regarding adoption in China, put there by people whose only goal is to selflessly share information.

IWJ: If you could please direct me to the web site that has my daughter's finding notice on it, as well as a video clip of her town and orphanage (Shanggao SWI), I'd really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people fuss about paying a small fee to possibly gain invaluable information about their daughter's first months in China -- information that may not be available in the years to come. Before I go any further, let me just say that my grandmother was an orphan in NYC and taken to MO at the turn of the nineteenth century on one of the infamous orphan trains. Up until her dying day, that sweet, faithful and very strong woman wondered what had happened to result in her being left at the gate of a foundling home. Years and years later, her daughters and granddaughters tried to track down information on Grandma's birth family, but the records were gone. Some had been destroyed by fire. We *think* we finally found the family name and the fact that she had two brothers. But, what became of them? What became of her parents? No one knows. She would have been so grateful had someone tried, in those early years of her childhood, to locate and preserve any information about her years in NYC and her birth family. Well into her 80s and early 90s, that woman still felt the need to know. I do not know if and/or how much information my daughters will want when they are teens or adults. But I am gathering what I can and keeping it private for them. Which brings me to the wonderful help Brian has been to my family. My oldest daughter was in foster care and luckily her orphanage forwarded a letter from me to the family. We began irregular contact -- nothing much, just a note or two and some photos. When I learned Brian was headed to the remote area of northern China where my daughter is from (and a city where no American family that I know of has been allowed to visit on their adoption trip), I signed up and asked that he deliver a package to the foster family. Long story short, Brian went above and beyond duty to find this family that had moved to a new address since my last correspondence with them. For two days, he walked through neighborhoods inquiring about this family. It is all captured on the dvd. When he finally located the family, the foster mother welcomed him into her home. On the dvd, we see two children being fostered -- babies I eventually matched with their adoptive parents -- including a mother who hadn't even met her child yet, but who could see on the dvd where the baby was living and who was caring for her. Brian was also diligent about getting the family's new address for me. Had I not signed up for the project and asked him to deliver the package, I feel certain I would have lost touch with them forever. Admittedly, not everyone is able to gain as much information from Brian's trips to China as I did. But, for the small amount of money I paid, my family gained so much. Time will tell whether my daughters will value and want the information. It's totally up to them. I just know how much my grandmother would have appreciated any scrap of information, no matter how small.

Anonymous said...

Correction: I should have written that my grandmother was taken on a orphan train to MO a few years before the turn of the 20th century, not the 19th.

Anonymous said...

Nothing, and I mean nothing, trumps the desire to learn whose blood flows in our veins.

I usually don't say this, but if you're not adopted, shut the hell up about this.

Anonymous said...

cc: I am in tears as I read your storie about your childs foster parents. You are truly fortunate that you have that information. My child was raised in foster care for the first 17mths of her life. This family obviously had a significant impact on her, because she is so loving and caring. Traits I am sure she learned in the early years of her life. I too would give anything to be able to connect with her foster family, in the hopes of one day finding her birth family. I feel that Brian brings tremendous value to those of us who don't have the same resources that he does. I treasure my daughters finding ad, and hope that one day, Brian will be in my daughters city, to provide further information.

Anonymous said...

Have been reading the responses to the last few posts and I just have to comment. You know, I wish life was black and white too. I wish someone had all the answers. I wish I never had to deal with contradictory data. I wish I could be sure that I was doing the right thing. But I won’t ever know and no one will be able to tell me. This is the case for IA and for just about any other major life decision. That’s life, folks!! So let’s not punish Brian for not having all the answers! Kudos to those who are brave enough to search and tolerate ambiguity and frustration. And even more kudos to those who are brave enough to share what they know. Those looking for a “messiah” should look elsewhere (and certainly not the internet)…

And anyone who thinks “research” always yields unambiguous results has never been a scientist. (I’m a 17 year practicing engineer.)

Anonymous said...

I think what everyone needs to remember about this site ... is that it is clearly a business ... that Brian can choose to run his business any way he chooses. (Never even sending a courtesy email back when I requested my daughter's finding ad)

He also has the right to post anything here that he wants ... what is so aweful is that he publishes his opinions in an arrogant way, and as a self professed authority.

And before everone attacks the "anonymous posting" ... i do not wish to sign-up for a blogger account ... if you would like to contact me, you can email

Anonymous said...

for all the complainers about Brian's site. Why do you keep coming back to read it if you hate it so much? Why not find a blog that conforms to your views and be happy for a change? Or better yet, how about create your own???
Good job Brian. Keep on writing.

Unknown said...

havig just posted to this site for teh first time, first let me thank brian for sharing his insights and observations and offering us pictures to bring to our children.
as to the poster who is so cross....YIKES, this can't really be about brian.....must be you have some bigger issues and he's the point man.
seems like 35 bucks is mighty do you make a living offering this gift to us brian. the question is don't many dad's travel for 2 weeks at a time....yeah to make the big bucks, not to do such altruistic work. lastly i have dropped many a call, or failed to get back to someone in my work arena....i am busy and i fall down. sometimes people call again and i apologize and we move on and i support them in any way i can.....again thank you brian,and one of these days i am going to get it together and ask you to put together the info about my daughter (i on the other hand have contacted you several times and failed to follow through when you were kind enough to get back to me!! NOW THAT I HAVE FOUND THIS SITE, I AM SURE TO GET THE BALL ROLLING....again THANKS!!