Thursday, March 29, 2007

Child Abandonment From the Inside IV

Last week's article on the abandonment of a little girl in a temple provoked strong reactions from readers. Many refused to believe the veracity of the story, believing it was fabricated or had been written a long time ago. Many found it difficult to understand the reactions of the temple workers, which resulted in the death of the baby girl through neglect.

These articles have been chosen from many different accounts because they each describe a prevalent belief or cultural attribute of China. We might find them hard to read, and even harder to believe, but as I wrote in the comment to last week's article, they confirm many similar experiences I have personally had -- attitudes displayed to abandoned children, reactions by orphanage staff, bureaucrats, the police, and others involved directly or indirectly in infant abandonment. These stories are simply not unique in any way.

Although this week's story has a happy ending, the careful reader will detect how many times the story could have ended tragically. If not for the intervention of the "Zhiyin" magazine and their tenactious reporter, any one of many administrative roadblocks would have ended the quest. Even the words of the orphanage director, a person whose job it is to find loving homes for the children in her care, ring false and cynical when she is approached by the "press".

At their roots, most abandonment stories are based in selfishness and self-interest. Whether it is a single woman seeking to avoid the consequences of her pregnancy, or a married couple seeking to please grand-parents or themselves with a "lucky" boy, most stories are avoidable. One class of stories, however, is the opposite. Given China's lack of affordable healthcare for its poorest citizens, the following story illustrates the quandary some parents are placed in when their child is born with a special need, or becomes sick. These stories are heart-breaking.

As I stated in a comment to last week's essay, there are never happy stories when it comes to abandonment in China. With this week's essay, I make a small exception.


On October 17, 2003, our periodical (“Zhi Yin” [Bosom Friends]) received a letter from Jiang Jiaxue in Huangchuang, Henan. He asked us to do him a favor. The letter contained 18 pages, and told us a story about their unfortunate life experience. They begged us sincerely to inquire about a seriously ill baby named Jiang Ruyi who has been separated from them for already half a year. They didn’t know where he was or whether he was fine or not. Jiang Jinxue said that his wife He Hongli had been missing her son so badly that she shed tears every day and is always at a loss. She had been diagnosed with having borderline psychosis and the situation was getting worse. Jiang Jinxue also had been thinking of his son and suffering guilt for him. At work, he made mistakes from time to time and thus hurt himself, resulting in his becoming handicapped. He even contemplated creating a car accident, so that he could win the compensation from the insurance company. With the money, his wife may finally find their son whom both of them were desperate for.

Our reporters began to make a thorough investigation as soon as they saw the letter and started searching for the baby for the anxious couple.

This family, miserable indeed, happened to have another unfortunate life.

Jiang Jinxue, aged 33, got married with He Hongli two years his younger, in 1993. Later they gave birth to a daughter named Qianqian. According to China’s Family Planning policy, they could have another baby after Qianqian reached five years of age.

In May 2002, He Hongli got pregnant again. This surprise brought the couple much happiness. They were expecting the coming of the child. In early August, He Hongli suddenly fell down from a fainting spell. Jiang Jinxue sent her to the hospital in town for a physical. The result came out that He Hongli had serious anemia. She was so weak that the doctors told her not to bring the baby to term, since otherwise both the mother and the baby would be in danger. A few days later, He Hongli, accompanied by her husband, went to the hospital for an Induced Abortion.

He Hongli felt uncomfortable after the surgery. One month later, she unexpectedly had heavy vaginal bleeding, and Jiang Jinxue rushed her to the People’s Hospital in Huangchang town. After giving an examination, the doctor found that the baby inside He Hongli’s womb was still there and alive. However, the doctor suggested she have another thorough abortion, because after the previous curettage, the fetus had been damaged and probably would be born deformed. The couple was in a dilemma. They adored this strong little life and did not want to deprive him of his life again.

Finally after much mental struggle, the kind-heated He Hongli decided to bear the baby. She told her husband that even if the baby were born a fool; she would be willing to take care of him for his whole life. Knowing that his wife was determined, he did not go against it.

On January 28, 2003, the baby was finally going to come into the world after the hard gestation. He Hongli was so weak that she had to undergo a cesarean delivery. During the surgery, He Hongli had excessive bleeding and her life was in danger. When separated from his mother, the baby’s face had already turned purple from labored breathing. The doctors made an emergency rescue of both the mother and the baby.

When Jiang Jin was told by the hospital that his wife and son were in danger, he thought that they were unlikely to survive. However, after two hours of emergency rescue, the mother and the baby came back to life again.

The baby was a boy, weighing no more than 2 kg. He was so weak that the doctors put him into an incubator. The baby received more than 20 days of intensive care there and was not allowed to be taken back home by his parents until it was made sure that he was not going to be at life risk again. The baby looked very handsome, smart and lively; nothing like a crippled child, which was a big relief for the couple.

Jiang Jinxue and his wife named the baby “Ruyi” which means “good will”. They wished their baby would be safe and well for his whole life, meanwhile bringing good luck to his family. But due to the weakness of his body, little Ruyi became ill from time to time.

One month after being discharged from the hospital, the couple found that their son had a hernia. Worse still, it existed in both of the testicles which is rare. After only a few days, the testicles swelled to be as big as two balloons. Little Ruyi had been good before that, but then he almost lost his voice from crying. His parents sent him to the hospital in town immediately. There the doctor said that the situation was not very positive and that surgery had to be done immediately, otherwise the baby would die. However, the hospital was not well equipped to do the special surgery for this small and weak of a baby. Thus they suggested the baby should be sent to the People’s Hospital for treatment.

On February 28, [2003], the couple hired a car and brought their son to the People’s Hospital in Xinyang city. By then the baby’s situation was rather serious. The doctors there made two emergency rescues for the baby. They thought a surgery for the baby at that moment would bring danger for the baby, so decided it better to observe him first. But in the evening on March 30th, the hospital had emergency information for the couple and told them the baby was in a really bad situation, and that he should be transmitted to a certain large specialty hospital in Wuhan. For the time being, little Ruyi’s eyes were barely seen for his head had swollen very big.

In the morning of March 31, little Ruyi was staying in the newborn surgery area of a certain large specialty hospital in Wuhan. The hospital checked little Ruyi and diagnosed that his small intestines were stuck in the hernial hole, and part of them had died due the length of time without blood flow. They said a surgery was needed, but warned that the baby very weak, so the parents should be prepared for the possibility that the surgery may fail.

At the same time, the hospital urged the couple to keep current in payments for all of the treatment expenses.

About 20,000 yuan had been spent from the day the baby was born. When they came to Wuhan, they had to pay 2,000 yuan for the “Pledge of Hospitalization”(a security deposit). Jiang Jinxue and his wife searched their pockets and only had 400 yuan to hand in. Then they used the remaining change to made phonecalls to their relatives and friends at home. They begged Jiang Jinxue’s elder brother to bring them the money the next day in the early morning. His brother had not been friendly to Jiang Jinxue for he was in big debt. “I can bring you the money, but let’s make it clear that you should pay me the traveling expenses,” he said unhappily to Jiang Jinxue.

The couple expected that little Ruyi’s uncle would arrive in the evening. Being afraid that he may not find them in the large hospital, they stood in front of the hospital all night long. As dawn arrived, the brother still did not show up.

Without money, the surgery for little Ruyi had to be delayed. He Hongli was extremely anxious. Her husband could only turn to Doctor Yu, the doctor in charge. Doctor Yu told the hospital administration about their situation and the hospital made an exception to do the surgery first. Doctor Yu also borrowed 100 yuan for the father to go back home.

The next morning (April 1), the surgery for little Wuxia began as expected. Despite a few difficulties in the surgery,it turned out better than what the doctors had thought. He Hongli had been waiting outside the operating room for more than 4 hours. When she learned that the surgery was a successful one, she finally sank down to the ground.

Though the surgery was successful, the frail baby was not out of the woods yet. He was still receiving 24-hour monitoring in the intensive care room. Anytime a problem might happen to him. All kinds of treatment expenses were charged, adding up to more than 3000 yuan for one day, which was a huge burden to the couple. Later in the evening, Jiang Jinxue borrowed more than 4,000 yuan at home and rushed back to the hospital. But by that time, the couple owed the hospital more than 8,000 yuan. His wife had been repeatedly asked to pay the money by the hospital. Jiang Jinxue went to the baby ward to see his baby son and touched his small face gently. Staying with him for no more than half an hour, he hurried home again to try collecting more money.

On the way, Jiang Jinxue thought it over and over and decided that his elder brother was the one that he could turn to. When he arrived back home, he begged his brother to loan him several thousand yuan from the Credit Cooperative, but his brother turned him down again. Achieving nothing, Jiang Jinxue went back to the hospital on April 2nd.

The hospital had been urging the couple to pay the treatment expenses immediately. They said if the money was not paid soon, they would stop giving medicine to the baby. He Hongli was so worried that she cried hard and kept asking her husband, “What are we going to do?” Hardly having slept for several days, Jiang Jinxue felt exhausted and did not know what to do.

The baby was still in critical condition and the consequences would be too ghastly to contemplate if the medicine was not served any more. They just couldn’t sit there and wait for the baby to die. Jiang Jinxue was so distressed that he wanted to jump out of the window of the hospital building. Suddenly, an idea came to his mind—why not go away first and leave the baby in the hospital? This is the place of saving lives, afterall. Even without the parents to pay the money, they wouldn’t just stop treating his son and watch him die! We can leave our baby here in the hospital for some time and when we earn enough money after working outside together, we can come back and retrieve our baby.

However, he soon abandoned the idea, because doing so was against one’s conscience. Thinking hard on it for almost half a day, he finally had to accept the previous idea, for there was no other way out. Making up his mind, he pulled his wife aside and told her what he was intending to do. “What if the hospital sends our baby to someone else?”He Hongli asked. “It may not be a bad idea if that happens. Anyway, it’s better than to die for a lack of money!”the husband replied. He Hongli thought it over and over and had to agree her husband’s idea was a good one.

At 9 o’clock in the evening of April 2, Jiang Jinxue and He Hongli went to see their baby son for the last time in the intensive care unit. The baby opened his eyes and looked at them. Then he smiled to his parents. He Hongli could not help but burst into tears, kissing her baby son again and again Later, they slide away from the hospital and got on the train in the Hankou railway station heading back home. After making the decision, He Hongli regretted it several times and her husband, despite feeling he was unwilling to do so, pulled her back each time she wanted to go back to the hospital.

A week later, on April 10, Jiang Jinxue and his wife, He Hongli, went to Henglin town in Changzhou Wujin city, Jiangsu province. Both of them started to work in a factory by the recommendation of He Hongli’s cousin, Mr. Wei. In order to earn as much money as possible, the couple worked fourteen to fifteen hours a day without feeling tired. When everything was settled down the following June, Jiang Jinxue wrote to Doctor Yu, the head doctor, twice expressing his sorry for the hospital and promising he would definitely pay what he had owed the hospital. He asked the hospital to take good care of his baby. However, he did not receive any information back from the hospital.

Realizing that writing letters was not going to work, Jian Jinxue plucked up his spirit and called 114 (China’s Information) to check the phone number of the hospital. He felt too ashamed to talk to the hospital personally, so he asked Mr. Wei to call the newborn surgery unit of the hospital to inquire after his son’s location. Everyone who answered the phone said they knew nothing about the boy and Doctor Yu couldn’t be found either until in late August Even he could not recall anything about the boy. After Mr. Wei told him what had happened, he said “You lost the baby in April and you just start to look for him now? You are lucky that the hospital hasn’t sued you for abandoning the baby. You ask the parents to come to the hospital in person and look for the baby themselves.”

Jiang Jinxue and his wife could not believe what had happened. According to the known information they had, their baby was not in the hospital any more. Thoughts filled their minds: Where could he be? Little Ruyi was then in dangerous situation. How could he survive? It’s apparent that it’s wrong to leave the baby in the hospital and slide away. The couple started to be badly haunted and tortured by guilt and regret.

A few days later, when Jiang Jinxue was working but lacked concentration, he had half of one of his fingers cut off by a spinning machine. This injury resulted in his being permanently disabled. His wife, He Hongli shed tears every day. At 3 o’clock in the morning on September 17, He Hongli sat up of bed suddenly and said happily to her husband, “Look, Ruyi is smiling to me! He is smiling to me!”Jiang Jinxue stopped her immediately and comforted her to calm down. Later, he brought his wife to the hospital in town to see the doctor, and knew that she had a slight psychiatric disorder. It would become serious if she couldn’t get rid of the worry and guilt.

Where little Ruyi was and whether he was fine or not remain a misery to the couple. They would not feel at ease until the misery was resolved. No matter what, Jiang Jinxue had made up his mind to look for little Ruyi in Wuhan, but knowing he lacked the money to pay the hospital, he hesitated. Later, he even wanted to create a car accident and use his life to get compensation from the insurance company. He thought that his wife might use the money to go back to Wuhan and look for their son, but he couldn’t just leave his wife and baby this way.

On September 28, Jiang Jinxue read the magazine “Zhi Yin”and he thought that since it was a good magazine with high social responsibilities, he would write a letter to the magazine for help.

Zhi Yin Magazine’s Activity — Helping the couple to find their baby son

Each baby is a new life with dignity and blessing. To care about a little baby or a small life shows one’s social responsibility for a single person, a group of people, and the whole country. Aiming at promoting humanism, our magazine paid great attention to this. Reading the letter, we also worried tremendously about little Ruyi. We were anxious to know whether this poor baby was still alive or not? Where had he gone?

After some difficulties, our reporter found out the phone number of the surgery department of the hospital. They learned from the phone calls that the situation was exactly as Jiang Jinxue had written in the letter— everybody who picked up the phone knew nothing about the case. Could the baby have died already? Or was it because the hospital wanted to block the information of the baby? Our reporter was at a loss.

Did the hospital do nothing and watch the baby die? If so, can the parents sue the hospital? Our reporter called Luqin, a lawyer in Changhao Law Office in Henan Province. Luqin explain that the relationship between the hospital and the patient is contracted. That is, the patients pay the money and the hospital provides them the treatment service in return. The couple left their baby in the hospital, which meant that such a contracted relationship had ceased. The hospital can stop the treatment for little Ruyi, even though this is against humanism. They don’t bear any legal liability. Nevertheless, the fact that Jiang Jinxue and his wife abandoned their baby maybe against the law. Hanging off the phone, our reporter had little hope to see little Ruyi alive.

On the morning of October 25, our reporter arrived at the ward in the hospital, which was full of people. All the crew members came and went in like a blast. Our reporter asked a dozen people, and all they said was “I don’t know.” Doctor Yu was said to be on a business trip and wouldn’t be back until more than 10 days later. Finally we got Director Wu, leader in the administrative office. He told us that the hospital had strict rules regarding interviews. Before we could have an interview, we should first contact the Publicity Department, and then get the permission of the President office.

Our reporter worked the whole day, yet nothing was achieved. In the end, our reporter rushed to the reception desk of the ward and asked for a hospitalization expense list for little Ruyi. The list showed that the treatment expenses for little Ruyi totaled 13,300 yuan. The last day he stayed in the hospital was April 18. That is to say, after his parents ran away, the hospital continued to treat the baby for 16 additional days. This meant the baby was probably alive. But the question is—where had he gone after being discharged?

On October 26, our reporter returned to the hospital and learned that once the hospital finds an abandoned baby, the Security Department would take charge of it, and then they would call “110” to take away the baby. The child would then be taken to the police station in charge of the area. Our reporter asked Mr. Zhou in the Security Department to help check the records around April 18. The result showed that there was a baby boy sent somewhere on April 17.

In the afternoon that day, our reporter rushed to the welfare institute. After telling the person in charge, Ms. Zeng, about our intentions, we asked her to do us a favor and check the records for information on abandoned babies. She refused to do so. The welfare institute insisted that we should go to the relevant police station and asked for a police report first, proving that they did send a baby to the welfare institute.

Having many difficulties, our reporter finally got the report from the police station in charge of the area on Dec 28, and it proved that the police did send a baby to the welfare institute on April 17. The baby was described exactly the same as little Ruyi. Our reporter finally confirmed that the poor little Ruyi was still alive.

The truth came out in the end. Our reporter called Jiang Jinxue and his wife and told them to go to Wuhan. In the meantime, our reporter warned them that when they arrived in Wuhan, they might be arrested by the police if the welfare institute decided to sue them. “I am ready for that. I don’t care even I would stay behind bar for several years, because when I get out of there, I can work hard to make up for the years that I’ve missed. I believe that through my hard work, I can give my wife and child a happy home.”

On October 29, Jiang Jinxue and his wife hurried to Wuhan and came to the welfare institute along with our reporter. When Ms. Zeng saw the parents, she told us that the welfare institute did receive such a baby. She also described how little Ruyi was treated in the hospital. When the hospital found that the parents had slipped away, they continued to treat the seriously ill baby in the intensive care for as long as half a year. Then they called “110” and sent the baby to the welfare institute. Little Ruyi was not completely well and received additional special care for 3 months in the hospital inside the welfare institute until he recovered. The baby was so small that the welfare institute hired some experienced foster mother to take care of him. In fact, there came families from everywhere in the county asking to adopt the baby. A couple even offered to donate 200,000 yuan to the welfare institute to adopt the little Ruyi. However, the welfare institute thought that his parents might come to look for him, so they turned down everyone’s request for the baby’s own good. All the expenses for treating the baby paid by the welfare institute had amounted to more than 12,000 yuan.

In the end, Ms. Zeng criticized the couple, saying that the welfare institute had never encountered such a case. Usually they would report the case to the police station. Jiang Jinxue said sincerely that“I never expected that the hospital, the welfare institute and “Zhiyin” magazine would help us so much to look for a baby they scarcely knew about. I am ashamed that as a father, I abandoned him. You can tell the police and I am willing be take the responsibility for this stupid mistake I’ve made.” Ms. Zeng smiled and said “Forget about it. You were in a hard situation. Since there were no bad consequences, and since the reporter from “Zhiyin” worked so hard to help you look for the baby, we won’t report it to the police. You just take good care of this baby from now on.”

Our reporter couldn’t wait to see little Ruyi and wondered what does he look like 10 months later? Ms. Zeng put forth that to adopt the baby, a family should repay the money that the welfare institute had spent on keeping the baby. Additionally, there was another 5,000 yuan needed as pecuniary punishment. Thus, in all, they needed to pay more than 17,000 yuan.

Our reporter and the couple were stunned. Having no choice, they made contact with the vice-president of the Welfare Institute. He said that “Zhiyin” is a magazine that we like very much. Since you’ve paid so much attention to this case, we would like to cooperate and make another decision according to the specific situation.”

On November 3, our reporter and the couple came back to the Welfare Institute and finally had the problem solved. The institute decided to make this case a special one, and asked the couple for only 2,000 yuan.

Little Ruyi was brought over by his foster mother. To everyone’s surprise, having gone through all these difficulties, the little baby had grown up strong and became very cute and healthy. He laughed and moveed his hands and feet in his foster mother’s arms as we played with him. When taken from his foster mother by He Hongli, little Ruyi was not afraid of her and eager to get into her mother’s embrace. Being out of words to express his gratitude, Jiang Jinxue pulled his wife and kneeled down before everybody.

On November 4, as Jiang Jinxue was leaving with his wife, he said that though he was lucky to have his son back, he would never forget that he once left his son and abandoned him. He would feel guilty and ashamed for his whole life. Meanwhile, he promised again that though he is out of money now, he would go out to work with his wife and pay back the hospital no matter how hard it was.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a story! I am so happy for the parents and little Ruyi!
A miracle!

Ethel, The Netherlands

Christy said...

Brian, Once again you have brought us a very moving story. It is heartbreaking to me in so many ways. As an AP of a SN child I can only imagine the pain my DD parents must have gone through to make the choice to abandon her. She was born cleft affected. Here in the USA her surgeries would not cost us a dime, but to know that her birth parents may of had to abondon her because of the cost of her surgery in China is so sad. I am so thankful to have her in my life, but I think about her birth parents often. I belive that the children in China that are in the most need are the SN kids, and it does break my heart to see so many families willing to wait up to three years for a "healthy" child but are unwilling to consider a SN child. I hope that your stories will open more peoples eyes to the truth. Christy

Anonymous said...

It is a touching story, however I highly doubt they would have done the same had the child been a boy.

Research-China.Org said...

The child was a boy.


Anonymous said...

Wow doesn't reading this really make you question the medical care?!!

Anonymous said...

This story hits close to home. Wuhan was the city in which our son was brought to us from another part of Hubei. Although we requested a NSN child, it was discovered in Guangzhou that he had a hernia (which required surgery when we returned home). The doctor told us that was probably the reason that he was abandoned. Like most adoptive parents, I often wonder about my child's birth parents and how they are dealing with the situation. I wish that there was some way to let them know that he is healthy and happy and loved.
Thank you for the touching story!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for this story. I think it at least demonstrates my point from the previous story that you posted: the chinese love their children..they do not wish to abandon them..poverty, the one child policy and many other variables contribute to these heart breaking decisions. And yes, I believe strongly that the one child policy is a major reason parents give up their children..sure there are other reasons: poverty, pressure from families, illness of the child...and sometimes unfortunately, ignorance. I appreciate that you listened to my dissenting opinion from the last story enough to try and post a more rounded view of child abandonment in China... It is obviously a very complex issue; and it is very important not to generalize personal experiences of 1, 10 or even 100 to a population. Abandonment of children happens all over the world..I have to believe it is the desperate act of parents in desperate situations. I think it is important not to sugar coat the issue, but I also think it is important to present a balanced view point to avoid sterotyping. Thank you for trying to do this.

Anonymous said...

The abandonment issue is very complex. In a county that underwent incomprehendable social turmoil and unrest 20-50 years ago, the thought of abandonment probably does not carry the stigma we westerners have against it, nor do many Chinese share the same values towards life / individuals that we do, particularly with the older population (perhaps that explains some of the Lingshan Temple apathy).

Each generation alters the previous generations perception and promotes / forces social growth and change (Good and Bad)along with the very real intertwined technology / social growth. I imagine that in two or three generations China will not accept abandonment any differently than we do as a culture do. However, poverty and the widening social economic gap and opportunity between rural China and the Cities, will be a major crisis issue.

Ruli’s parents made a commitment to pay for what they could, and did what many considered the right thing. While we applaud them, forgetting that we too in the west have institutions, foster care, and abortion for unwanted children - I wonder what the typical person in China would say to that story – indifference?