Thursday, March 22, 2007

Child Abandonment From the Inside III

The Temple and the Abandoned Baby

It is obvious, of course, that the children adopted from China's orphanages are those that were reported and brought to the orphanage by members of the surrounding community. But not every child found makes it to the orphanage. An unknown number die before they can be safe-harbored with a family, or the orphanage.

I read the following story many times, trying to decide if I should publish it. It is heart-breaking to read. I feel both anger and pity for the players involved, and my heart breaks for the small child. But I have encountered the attitudes and ideas portrayed by this story many times, and feel it brings understanding to the vast cultural differences between many in China and ourselves.

I don't want the reader to conclude that these attitudes are universal, but they are wide-spread and even common. This story occurs frequently enough, in one form or another, to be informative.


Temples are solitude in the common people’s eyes. Every old yellow gate seems to prevent all the worldly worries from getting inside the temples.

On the morning this Sunday, it was so cold that every breath turned into fog immediately. The monk students came out of the gate to find that there was a baby girl lying on the floor. Her face had turned red because of the cold weather. She lay crying hard to the sky. A brave person picked up the baby and went inside. He put her in front of the King Palace, right before the fat laughing Buddha.

It was September 20th in lunar calendar which is October 19th in solar calendar.

All the monks surrounded the baby who was laid on the bluestone floor and crying all the time. I watched the baby’s little fat face and her crying mouth, thinking that she might have a wet diaper. Then I opened the baby’s wrapping cloth and found that there was a red envelope ,which had 20 RMB in it, and another piece of paper with words on it, stating: “Born on Sep. 2nd in lunar calendar.” She was only 18 days old.

A half bag of dried whole milk powder, which was not especially for babies, was tied to the baby’s wrist. There were other things too, including a milk bottle filled with milk, a clean diaper which was in fact a piece of rag, and a small sweater bound around the baby with a cord. That is all that was with the baby, nothing else. Apparently, the baby’s mother was very poor.

I exchanged the baby’s diaper for a new one and examined her belly button. She was very healthy. Her little bright eyes stared at me and sucked the cloth with her mouth. I looked at her and adored her for no reason. Then I knew I was going to take care of her. Out of impulse, I rushed to the magnetic phone and called the temple where my monk tutor was. He was the director of the Buddhist Association and busy out ata meeting then. So the driver, Mr. Sun, answered my phone.

Before I had finished telling what had happened to him, Mr. Sun yelled “Please leave that baby alone. Now the family plan is implemented everywhere. If the temple is going to adopt the baby girl, then all the extra babies will be sent to the temple. What’s more, the people working in the Family Planning Office searched the temple yesterday.” I was stunned and felt confused. What had the Family Planing to do with the temple? And then Mr. Sun shouted at me again, “You’d better not be so kind hearted. No one can take care of such an issue. Leave the baby where it was. Just don’t send her to the temple. That’s kind enough.” I hung up and was unable to move. It’s a life. Can it be treated badly just because it’s abandoned?

The abandoned baby was held by several nuns to keep warm in their room. These nuns are all grandmothers of their own grandchildren. They came here to be nuns for unknown reasons. Though they are old, they have just lately begun to shave their heads. The abandoned baby was lying on the bed with one of the nuns and was hungrily drinking the milk.

An old nun who has no teeth left pointed to the baby and said: “This is the bean milk that the man who is keeping the King Palace brought to the baby. You see, she has a good appetite, doesn’t she”? “Bean milk? Isn’t there a half bag of milk powder”? I asked. “That man said that bean milk has more nutrition than milk powder,” answered the nun. How ridiculous it is. The nun was going to argue with me. Seeing the happy face that the baby girl had when she was drinking the bean milk, I gave up defending myself with this old nun who just shaved her head and couldn’t speak clearly. In the evening, I went to the old nun’s room to see the baby girl and told them again that the baby girl should be sent to the orphanage. I had a bad feeling this time. I could not turn my eyes off the abandoned baby and repeated that she should be taken good care of. When I was about to leave, there came a senior secular who submitted to Buddhist discipline while still wearing her hair. She appeared very smart and capable. Her husband has retired and teaches at the temple. Our teacher’s wife went along with her husband and is working in the temple now, being the attendant of the service department here. She holds Buddhist sutras every day. Though she came here for the Buddhist discipline, she cared for everything and gave her opinions as she wanted. Thus, in order to avoid a confrontation with her, I didn’t say anything more and left the abandoned baby girl and went back to my room.

In the early morning the next day, after finishing the courses, I went to see the baby girl. The old nun stood in front of the door, and said to me smilingly, “Someone came from outside and took the baby girl.” “Was it the welfare institute”? I asked. She replied “If it’s the welfare, we have to pay 400 RMB for the baby’s living expenses per month. This time the person asked for no money”. Then I felt worried. “What on earth is that guy? How come the welfare institute would charge money for keeping an abandoned baby? You must have misunderstood.” “It’s true that the welfare institute charges money. Last year when they took away another abandoned baby, I saw the abbot give them some money. Now it’s better this time. That guy asked for no money.” I asked again, “Where did the guy come from?” “They were very nice to send a car to take the baby.” She had few teeth in her mouth and it’s really hard to understand what she had said. “Who told that guy?” “It was the teacher’s wife. She is very capable. Soon after she promised to ask someone to adopt the baby, she made a phone call and then came the guy immediately. She is really capable.” Watching the nun, I knew that she could not tell give any useful information. According to my limited experience, I guessed that that guy must have come from the welfare institute. The nun might not know it. So I thought that the baby girl must have been in the welfare institute. Before I fell to sleep, I was thinking that someday when the baby girl has grown up, I would take her as my disciple.”

The weather in the north is variable. A few days later, a cold current approached. The monk students all put on their winter clothes. The maple leaves in the temple were hit by the frost and fell to the floor. I was busy with my courses during these few days and almost forgot the baby girl who was abandoned by her mother. Days went as usual. Visitors came and went. Smart sparrows had their nest built on the roof beam of the Jade Buddhist Palace and fed their children there.

One day at noon, my monk tutor and Mr. Sun, the driver, came to the Buddhist College. A truck came along with them, and it was full of juice drinks which were put in some boxes. They were for the monk students. When waiting for the abbot, they were chatting with each other. I was busy washing an apple for my tutor. Suddenly, I heard them say that a baby died. It caused my attention. “Why did you say that a baby died? What is it about?” Then the room became silent. Mr. Sun said, “It was the abandoned baby girl who you called and asked to send back last time.” I felt shocked. “Wasn’t she sent to the welfare institute? Why was she still in the temple?”

My heart broke. Mr. Sun continued, “There is no welfare institute in such a small town. Someone here called the monk tutor saying that the Buddhist College wanted us to take the baby away. Our tutor is the senior director of the association. He would definitely do the favor for the Buddhist College. So I drove here early that morning and took the baby away. I gave her to the tutor and he even praised that the baby was so cute. He couldn’t decide whether to keep it or not, so he asked the two old nuns who do the cooking in the temple to take care of the baby. The baby was put on the bed and no one kept an eye on her. A few days later, she died.” I got angry. “How come she died a few days later? I checked the baby and she was healthy. Was she suffocated by the quilt?” “There was no quilt. It was just a small piece of rag. She couldn’t have suffocated”. I raised my voice, “Did anybody send her to the hospital immediately? What was the cause of her death?” “When the old nun held the baby later, she was already dead. The nun was shaking and crying. She was about to send the baby to the hospital. But when I got there and touched the baby, I knew it was too late, so we didn’t send her to the hospital. Honestly, I am already the father of two children. I have some experience. The baby must have died from the cold.”

“She was just a few days old and needed to be kept warm by somebody. The old nun had her own business. She did not have time to feed her or change the diaper for her, causing her to stay wet. And there was no quilt. She was meant to die. The major reason was because she was an abandoned baby. Who would like to take care of her?” I asked, “Why not send her to the welfare institute? Why would you take her? Weren’t you afraid of the search by the Family Planning?” Mr. Sun lowed down his head and said a moment later, “The tutor is the director of the association. We have to respect him. I did tell the tutor not to keep the baby, but the tutor praised that the baby girl was cute, and she would grow up to be a beautiful lady if she was to be brought up by the nuns. So she stayed. After the baby died, the nuns only kept crying. It’s me who is so smart to send the baby to the mountain behind the temple. I bought her a small coffin which cost me 10 RMB, and then 20 RMB more to have her buried. In the evening, the temple prayed for the baby for free and gave her a memorial tablet writing ‘Nameless Baby.’ We’ve done what we could”.

The tutor was eating the apple and appeared kindly.

I could not say a word and had tears rolling down.

Coming to the Buddhist College, I had longed to learn the Buddhist doctrine in order to save the misery of people in this world. I was active in the class and recited the lection by heart. I gave speeches passionately! I was ambitious and full of hope. Every day I was ready to graduate from the Buddhist College and begin my salvation through charity to people in the miserable world. Every time I came into someone, “Amitabha Buddha” is what I said.

Poor baby girl! How many good deeds have you done to come into this world. Unfortunately, you chose the wrong mother, a woman who just abandoned you. Worse still, you were born in the wrong time, even the temple, which was supposed to be your best chance, but that could not save your life. This is what you’ve gone through.—been to this world for little more than 20 days. You died so quickly. Maybe you had done something wrong in your last life, and this life you had to pay back. Hope that you, a nameless baby, learn under the ground what had happened to you, and don’t come to this world once again.


Sheri said...

Brian, where/when was this story originally published? I am sitting here crying - this is just so awful - so needless - so damn STUPID... I cannot fathom how the denizens of a monastery/convent could be so complacent over letting a human being - a helpless, innocent child - starve and/or freeze to death. The young man who wrote it down will never forgive himself, of that I'm certain.

More: The Buddha would NOT approve.

Research-China.Org said...

The article was posted to the Lingshan Temple website on July 10, 2006. I don't know if the story happened at that temple (it is located in Yiyang City, Henan Province).

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that even the young man who found her, though brokenhearted himself, in the end rationalizes the tragedy by saying that maybe the child did something wrong in a "past life" instead of questioning the working (or lack thereof)of Buddism in the lives of the monks he lives with. Let's call a spade a spade (evil). I am however not very surprised.Buddism is a reclusive,self-centered way of life.

Anonymous said...

It is very evident that the China / heritage we long for our daughters to be proud of has an underlying cold, indiffent and ugly reality.

Our daughters went from the lowest rung of a ladder in a third world societey, unwanted throw aways, to spoild princesses in 3500 ft2 house in the burbs.

With all the recent talk that I.A. is not needed anymore, if girls are dying due to exposure caused by apathy on the part of many in a place you would think would be a safe haven, then by all means open the flood gates.

Anonymous said...

So thankful our daughters were
found and taken care of for us.

Emily's Parents said...

Can this story be independently confirmed?

The reason I ask is that it is not unknown to publish anti-buddhist stories in China. This would qualify as a perfect one for the anti-buddhist agenda, and so independent confirmation is warranted.

This story goes so strongly against the core tennets of Buddhist philosphy and belief as to bear critical scrutiny.

Research-China.Org said...

The source website ( is the website of the Lingshan Temple association in Henan Province. The purpose of the website is to educate people on Buddhism. There is an accompanying magazine also. Clearly not a detractor of Buddhism, although the point is well-taken.


Anonymous said...

Very, very disturbing. It makes me shudder to think this could have happened to my daughters, and it makes me very sad and angry that other babies have to suffer this fate when there are literally thousands of people around the world who would love to adopt them (some deemed too old or disfigured or poor or not married long enough or single or...) Surely, there are better alternatives than letting babies die unattended. I would have LOVED to have had this baby! She deserved better!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emily's parents...can this story be confirmed by an altenative source?..hard for me to believe that this could have occurred in China..the Chinese love their children...yes, they have to give them up due to the one child policy but that does not mean they they will just let their children die like this. Unless you can verify this story as being accurate.. I am not sure it is helpful to print a story like this; it just reinforces stereotypes about the consequences of the one child policy...
If you can verify it, then of course it is helpful to share this story because no child or person deserves this.... Your website could be a very powerful tool, but I think you need to be careful about verifying your facts.. I am not saying this horrible story is NOT true, but rather than you need to substantiate your postings...especially if the purpose of this site is to inform and help evoke change (which I am sure must be your intent).

Anonymous said...

This is a sad and regrettable story reminiscent of the documentary "The Dying Room". We can cry, condemn and wring our hands but are we any better?

Infant mortality rates in indigenous populations far exceed those in the general population - where is the outrage?

Whatever your thoughts on abortion a healthy viable life ends.

Christian churches for decades ignored and sometimes sheltered paedophiles (at least this is being addressed).

I'm sure if we looked we could find more examples.

Research-China.Org said...

I recognize that many parents will feel it hard to believe that such a story could happen, but I have no doubt as to its accuracy. I have met many people that echoed the feelings of those in this story -- the belief that abandoned children are worthless; the desire to do anything to save some money, even if it endangers another's life. In fact, I have met people that could have been the primary people in this story.

All of these stories have one thing in common -- a desire to change social norms and expectations in China. I found this story valuable because it shows that not every child has a happy ending. The irony is that the birth family trusted the temple to care of their child, and that is why they chose that location. That trust was broken -- not maliciously, but carelessly. And that carelessness is often deeply engrained.


Anonymous said...

Thank-you for publishing my previous comment. However, you still have not commented on how you are verifying the accuracy of this report...just because you may have met individuals that may have 'echoed these sentiments' does not mean those individuals actually performed these acts....many people says things, but don't actually do these things...unfortunately I know some people might...however, without facts to verify this account this remains an unproven story...heartbreaking yes, and totally unacceptable.yes.if true the people who did this should be brought to justice...

Research-China.Org said...

We have verified the website that it is a temple association from all over China. The website is set up to record the experiences of those working and studying in the Buddhist temples. The story is consistent from start to finish with many others.

I have no reason to doubt its truthfulness.

The reader can decide for themselves what they choose to believe.


Anonymous said...

I believe you Brian when you say you know other people who could have been in this scenario and done the same thing. I too know many native Chinese people and though they love the children the have, there is an underlying consistent attitude that seems to reappear; a lack of attachment to children based on unconditional love and valuing a child no matter the circumstances of birth, disability etc.Rather their love tends to be based on their own decision to ascribe value to the child. Even if culturally the child is not valuable then they see nothing wrong with their decision to get rid of that child before or after birth esp when $ are at stake. I have seen this lack of attachment to children even when they are loved and wanted. I do think there is a definate cultural component but we in US do the same thing for the sake of convenience. We abandon responsibility for our children and abort them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this information. I just think it is important not to raise sterotypes about a whole race of people based on personal experience (as in the last posters comments). You cannot generalize about a whole nations feelings towards their children and their lack of attachment based on personal experience. Does a personal experience of 1 or 10 or even 100? represent a nation's attitude about children with over 1 Billion people in the population-I think not..otherwise I would be quoting my more personal positive experiences ....I have to ask if this story is true, one wonders why the people responsible are not facing judicial consequences...especially since it has been posted publically on a website...Sad...
In the end, I appeciate you posting my dissenting opinion... I am so sad about such a waste of a wonderful child's life...

Research-China.Org said...

I agree that one cannot base the attitudes of a whole population on one or two experiences. My purpose is not to try to convince anyone that these experiences are wide-spread.

That said, I am trying to find stories that convey common attitudes (perhaps not to the extremes of the story, but prevalent none-the-less). It is difficult to convey small experiences and attitudes perceived in China, and I hope these stories will demonstrate attitudes by all parties involved in the abandonment issue. Collectively they portray a broad picture.


Anonymous said...

You mention above that some ( not all by any means) people in China view abandond children as worthless. This is not the first time I have heard this.

Do you think that this indifferance is cultural and to take this one step further, do some immigrants here in the US also look at IA children as non-Chinese?

Emily's Parents said...

I guess the next question (and I think this question is valid for all postings of stories like this) is what was the date in which this event took place? I think that this is a very important piece of information as there is little merit in presenting a story that in fact pre-dates the "dying rooms" of the prior decade in China.

I did not see a date reference in this story. Did I miss it??

Research-China.Org said...

The article was uploaded and posted to the site on July 10, 2006 (if you right-click on the original page, you can see the posting date under "Page Info".


Anonymous said...

In response to people who comment on how the Chinese (some? all? a lot?) view abandoned children as worthless, I just want to point out that the mortality rate for African American infants is astoundingly high in the US (14.1 per 1000, twice the national average), yet we as a country are not appalled enough to move the issue to the top of the political agenda. Inner city America is third world, and it would not be hard for someone looking in to say that America views a large chunk of its population as worthless.


Anonymous said...

Thanks again for posting these comments... I think it is important (based on your comment) that you post experiences that reflect all attitudes about how the chinese feel about their children children-I do not agree that these attitudes are prevalent in Chinese society..and there is literature to support the contrary view...
I am with Emily's parents..where is the date associated with this story (I know it was posted in 2006 and thank you for pointing this out, but one wonders when the event actually happenned.) If you want to examine child abandonment from the inside..then please do so from all perspectives.. there are so many other positive stories and I look forward to you posting these to ensure a balance perspective is provided here...
And finally I think we need to acknowledge loudly: parents give up their children in China due to the 'one child policy'..I doubt its because they want to do this... The one child policy was a government's desperate measure to control their people's population so they could prevent massive I agree with it...absolutely not...but I think we need to remember this point...It does not make any of the events in the story posted acceptable..but I think before we make broad sweeping statements regarding parental attitudes about their offspring in China; we need to acknowledge this first.

Research-China.Org said...

There are no happy stories concerning child abandonment in China -- by definition all of these stories are tragedies. I know we would all like to look for reasons to discount various aspects of these stories, but at the foundation of most stories lies selfishness. Let me be clear -- no family has ever been forced to give up a child due to the one-child policy. Families CHOOSE to give up the child. Many do it under pressure from grand-parents in order to perpetuate the "Family name" (really the male family name, as few women in China change their names when they marry, etc., so the family name continues). A significant portion of women are single, and for various reasons feel social pressure. But no one is forced in the literal sense.

I would except those families that give up their child due to medical issues. I can think of no greater tragedy than a family who has a child that requires medical treatment which the family can't afford. This is the great weakness of the Chinese society -- a family with a SN child has little choice but to abandon their child in order for that child to get the treatment required. Hospitals rarely will offer treatment pro bono.

Let me be clear on the assertion made by Anonymous: The one-child policy does not directly cause child abandonment in China. Traditionalism, peer pressure, and other incentives play a large role, admittedly. But I think we should discard the idea that in most cases these families are being forced to give up their children.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the one child policy doesn't cause the abandonment of these children per se. If girls were considered as important as boys, then one daughter families would be fine with their families as is and keep their daughters. I think the abandonment is from something more deeply rooted in Chinese attitudes. Of course, some children are abandoned for the same reasons they are in other countries or else boys wouldn't be abandoned, too. I also agree that it's incredibly sad when SN children have to be given up for their physical well-being or even for their very survival.
Despite the reasons for abandonment, it is still maddening that an abandoned child could be treated in such a cavalier manner. Even if this story is not completely true, if it illustrates not uncommon Chinese attitudes toward abandanded children in China, it's quite disturbing.

Anonymous said...

I think these stories do illustrate a common attitude in Chinese culture especially exaggerated among the uneducated. Abandonment rates are lower in larger more educated populations. I don't think anyone means to generalize these attitudes to everyone but lets face it; valuing boys over girls/infanticide of girls and abandonment goes back along way in China. It will take a long time to get rid of it. But you are right, at its core, it is selfishness-willing to do anything to get what you want (or don't want). My heart still breaks for those anguished parents who love their children but they have a sn that they cannot afford to pay for.
That is a tragedy!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the blogs, they keep us all humble.

You mention that the one child policy is not the silver bullet in abandonment, but it is big part of a larger, complicated reality.

I belive in the end, the real story is the vast gap between the haves and have nots in China. Poverty and under employment has to play a large part in abandonment.

The Lingsan Temple story is most likley true and not as isolated as we all want to belive. China does not have a corner on apathy towards the underprivleged.

Research-China.Org said...


You are right, poverty does play a role in this. As I wrote in my blog article " The Value of Life in China"
life itself is viewed differently in China than here in the West. We simply cannot easily comprehend the attitudes and belief-systems operating in China, especially in the countryside.