Monday, November 26, 2012

A History of China's International Adoption Program

Last October, my wife Lan and I were invited to speak to two groups of New York adoptive families, one presentation taking place on Long Island, and the other at NYU in Manhattan. The topic I chose to speak on was "The History of China's International Adoption Program and Its Impact on Birth Parent Searching." This week on the subscription blog is a recital of my presentation in three parts for
ease in viewing.

If you are not a member of our subscription blog, you can join here.  The blog is filled with analysis of the different adoption Provinces, interviews with orphanage insiders, recountings from some of our birth parent searching, and other informative and insightful articles.  If you wish to fully understand China;s adoption program, the blog will be a great source for you. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The "A-ha" Moment

Last April I wrote about a new form of adoption corruption that involved orphanages approaching rural residents promising their children better educations if they allowed them to attend "orphanage schools."   Once in the orphanage, the children are submitted for international adoption as older, "aging out" children, desperately in need of Western adoptive families.  While these children's birth families sometimes are deceived into relinquishing custody of their children to the orphanage, we are now learning that some orphanages are charging birth families to have their children participate in this program, with everyone well aware of what is going on -- everyone except the adoptive families.  

Since April, I have been approached by other families who have recounted their own stories, including learning that some of the children being adopted by unknowing families were the children of the orphanage directors themselves, all under the guise of the "special focus" programs promoted by WACAP, CCAI and other agencies.   

A few of the impacted families have started speaking up, fighting to bring awareness and change to their agencies and the Chinese government, including the CCCWA itself.  Below is a recounting of one such attempt made by two adoptive mothers last monthTheir story illustrates the complexity of this situation, and how adoptive families are left to deal with the issues that follow.  If you are a family impacted by this problem, please feel free to contact me if you would like to tell your story (anonymously or otherwise), or if you would like to be put into contact with other families dealing with these issues.  

What follows was sent to me by an adoptive mother of one of China's "aging out children." 

I have been trying to wrap my brain around all that has happened in the past few weeks.  How to write it all out, what to say. How to say it.

The moment when it all became clear.  The words were said: "Do not spend time looking to your past, but only look to the future and the opportunity you have in America." 

These were the words of the deputy director general of the CCCWA, the highest government official in China adoption.  She was touring the U.S., along with several other high officials in China adoption as well as the CEO of the National Council for Adoption in the U.S.  One particular official traveling with her was the new director of the Luoyang orphanage. 

They would make several stops on their tour, greeting agencies and families.  A tour that would land them in a meeting on the West Coast with a large adoption agency within driving distance of my town.

I would never, ever have another opportunity to have these officials all in one room.  I knew I had to go, in hopes of my chance to confront them and ask for answers surrounding issues in the adoptions of healthy older children and speak out for truth.

The meeting consisted of a small panel of Chinese adoptees who came home at different ages and were now in their teens-adulthood.  They talked of their experiences here. Several of them  spoke of their desire to know more about their history, to know more about their birth family and/or medical history. The highest official in adoption listened to them.  But instead of validating their feelings of wanting to know their histories, she told them they shouldn't worry about that, but only look toward their future and their opportunities in America, all the while remembering their motherland.  

My friend and I looked at each other and said "it all makes sense now."  Not only are we not on the same page with the Chinese adoption officials about adoption, we are not even reading the same book.   For Americans adoption is often, if not always, a desire for relationship -- a parent/child relationship forever, based on truth and love.  Attachment. Hugs and kisses. Sharing the journey. However, all the way across the ocean is a group of officials who are not promoting adoption out of a desire for children to have a family, they are promoting adoption for opportunity and are completely clueless to the damage it can do to deny the past of a child.  Sure, a family is part of the deal, but it is not seen in the same way as we see it.  For me, family is about relationship regardless of opportunity.  A poor family is still a family.  If our house burns down and all we have left is each other, that will be enough because we are a family.

(I know, of course, that I'm not speaking for ALL adoptive families. I am aware that some families may be completely fine with adopting a kid solely to give them a better opportunity and perfectly content with it being all about that. I'm just speaking on my general observations. And of course, we all desire opportunity for our kids. You know what I mean, I hope.)

Children who were adopted at a younger age become more westernized having grown up in a relational society here.  Their history mostly exists here in America, with only a small piece missing--their birth family. They have a healthy desire to have the puzzle all put together. Their life story, each step of the way.  We see this in our younger kids who want all the answers, who like hearing about when they were a baby or the funny things they said when they were young. 

Teen adoption from China is a different story.  And now it all makes sense.  "Don't look back." "Look only toward the future." Opportunity.  Those teens who looked into the camera during the "Journey of Hope" Luoyang program and said "I just want a mom and dad, I want a family," were saying what they had been coached to say.  Told to hide the past. To never tell the truth.  This would provide them opportunity.  One more step in where they wanted to go, where the director wanted them to go.

Some children will do just fine in this situation.  They will even discover how much they actually DO desire relationships and soak it up.  They will embrace their new life---and never look back. However, I don't think they can do this forever.  If they open up with the truth, I believe they can do very well providing they have embraced relationships here AND told the truth about their history--which when adopted as a teen "I don't remember" is not a real answer.  Trust me, they remember.

However, there is one problem with this, regardless of how the child is doing.  The adoption took place under fraud.  Lies were told, children were threatened, birth families were given empty promises.  Sure, the poverty may have been great in some cases, and it would seem the children would be better off here.  However when it is all hidden, and no one wants to talk about it; when children are told to never ever tell and the old director is still communicating with children and telling them to be quiet, the problem remains.  It's all a scam!  "Like a cult," is the best description I've heard.  Social welfare directors might seem gracious and cooperative at face value, but this in no way means that he or she is not involved in corruption.

It's all WRONG.

And so it went.  After the delegation finished their talking, we (my friend flew half way across the country to also speak to this group about her case) approached the officials.  We presented them with documents from a few families who wanted to stand up for the truth.  My very sweet friend translated for us. We told them our stories.  We asked for an investigation.  We spoke to the current director of the Luoyang orphanage, the deputy general of the CCCWA and the CEO of National Council for Adoption.   They all listened with compassion and concern. 

Now before anyone panics, please know that NONE of us desire to see the end of adoption.  We all love adoption.  We love our children.  However, we cannot hide the truth out of fear.  Not for one second did any of us feel like what we were doing would cause harm.  As a matter of fact, for the first time we felt like the truth would be heard and positive change might be made.  The top official of the CCCWA looked me in the eye, shook my hand and said, "I'm sorry".  They promised to look into things. In the letters that were presented to the officials there were several requests made, all were similar from all families.  I'll include a small portion of my letter here: 

"We ask for a formal apology from all who participated in the deception and threatening of our children and those who participated in aiding them to do so. 

"We ask for assurance that our children and their families in China as well as the U.S. will be held harmless as a result of the confessions of their true history and that our children will be given the opportunity and welcomed to return to China for a visit with their families if they so desire.

"Our family believes in adoption and is grateful to have our children from China. However, the circumstances surrounding our two Luoyang adoptions have been heartbreaking and painful to our entire family. Our desire is that no other family or child should suffer because of an adoption under false paperwork, and that the integrity of the program would be held to the highest standards to ensure truthfulness and transparency in the children's history before adoption. We would like to see changes within the China program to allow children to stay with their biological families and get the education and training needed to stay with their relatives. We would be fully supportive in implementing programs like these. We would also support the adoption age changing to age 18 so children are not forced to lie about their age."

As a believer in Jesus, I can tell you that not for a second did we doubt that we were in the right place.  We felt God's leading every.single.step of the way.  No fear.  Only peace.  

Perhaps changes will be made to ensure the China program is run ethically and clean. A program that is transparent. This would be ideal. Perhaps nothing will be done. One thing I am sure of is that I have done what I could and after a very long time of questioning, it gives me peace that we are exactly where we should be. 

I'm not sure what the next step is in this journey, but one thing I do strongly believe is that Christians need to take a stand for truth.  No one wants to talk about the corruption out of fear that it may damage the program.  I truly believe this is wrong.   Children should not be used in adoption, orphans should not be created to fill up numbers in a program.  Birth families should have a voice and not be condemned because they don't meet financial social standards.  A poor family is still a family.  Sometimes we are so focused on "caring for the orphan," we don't realize we are actually contributing to the corruption.

But when I look around, I see it still happening.  Take this example:

When he was just six years old, Connor's father died and his mother left him with his aunt. Later he was sent to the orphanage when his aunt could no longer care for him.  Connor's Asian name means “he grows up like the hardy white poplar which grows in the north”.

Now 13, Connor is a handsome, healthy boy. When he was younger his caretakers described him as “big eyes bright--he is sunshine, beautiful, and cute boy”. He studies at the local school where he is an excellent student who loves learning.  Connor is popular with his caregivers, teachers and classmates. He has a reputation for being helpful to others with chores and caring for younger children. His report says he’s polite and does everything carefully including making his bed, cleaning his room, and making sure he looks nice. He likes playing basketball, drawing and reading books.

Yet, no one says "by the way, it's possible none of this is true and it will be more of an exchange student situation!"  It's possible this kid is being used and told to lie forever, enter a new life here and never look back---all the while keeping his connection to home through internet while unsuspecting parents think it's so cute that they have so many friends back in China.

The problem--we don't know. Maybe it IS true that they are orphaned, maybe it really is exactly as it says on paper.

However, knowing what I do now.....seeing orphanage directors send their own kids here, foster families that turn out to be birth parents, family photos (of child and birth family) taken just one week before an adoptive family arrives to get their "orphaned" child, having Civil Affairs Officers willing to take money to enter teens into the "boarding school," children promised educations at Harvard, shall I go on?

Knowing all of this, I cannot advocate for the adoption of these children. I don't think agencies should either. Unless they have thoroughly investigated. But even then, it's impossible to know. There has to be some sort of crackdown as a result of the numerous false adoptions that already took place. 

Agencies need to take a stand and stop promoting adoption of children whose paperwork is questionable.  They need to hold officials accountable. They should be held accountable. When they see red flags, they need to investigate and put things on hold---and we (those of us in the process) need to step back and not be so emotionally attached to a photo that we are willing to look the other way in order to fill our own need.  

This is a complicated matter as there are so many aspects to it. Who defines an orphan?  When kids come here that technically don't "need" to--it means other children are left behind.  What about them?  Who defines the "need" in the first place?  Was someone robbed of their chance at a family because someone else took advantage of the opportunity?  Have officials now taken the last bit of hope from the true orphan and created a program of opportunity for the elite underprivileged, as well as the already well off?  How do you reconcile all this in your mind?   That is the question.  And it's all complicated.

Here are some red-flags that you should be aware of if you are considering adopting an older child, or have already adopted one:

* If you adopted an older, healthy child, especially a boy from an orphanage that has participated in international adoptions for a long time
* If your child is wanting to be on QQ all the time and has numerous contacts on there.  They may be talking to family

* If your child (adopted at an older age, say 10 and up) has been in the orphanage system only a short time

* If you adopted a teen child and s/he is not growing in height---this is a big indicator that they are older. Teen boys---age 13,14...GROW!  16,17,18....not so much.

* If you know other children from the orphanage with the same sort of story: parents died, relatives old and ailing. Especially if those kids are adopted in clusters.

What to do if this is your story:

* TALK to your child. Tell them you have heard about other kids who were adopted and they were actually older and/or their parents weren't really dead and you'd like to know their REAL story. Assure them they don't have to be afraid and you want to help them.  Tell them it's ok if they are talking to their family on QQ, you just want to know the truth.

* If you suspect your adopted teen is older, ask them their "sign".  Chinese kids know their "sign", this will tell you their birth year.

* Always reassure them that you understand and love them no matter what.  If your child sticks to the story on the paperwork, revisit it several months down the road so your child always knows you are open and willing to listen to the truth at any time.   While it might be easier, never assume the paperwork is really true.  

Truth.  Stand for the truth.  If you have experienced something similar---speak out about it. Encourage your kids to speak the truth.  Do not hide out of fear.  The truth will bring about change.  Please join the cause

These problems are not limited to Luoyang; it's happening all over China.  Orphanage director's are sending their own children and relatives here under the disguise of an orphan.  If you brought home a teen--particularly a teen with no special needs--ask them more questions.  Tell them they don't have to be afraid. 

Take a stand for ALL the children. 

Take a stand for ALL the families.    

Take a stand for TRUTH!


After I posted this essay yesterday, another family with Luoyang children e-mailed me the following recounting of their story.  

We are victims of the "Journey of Hope" child laundering scam.  After almost two years of being in our family, our two Luoyang "boys" told us they are much older (almost 20 instead of 15, and almost 19 instead of 17). They were too old to leave China as orphans and they were too old to enter the USA as adopted children.  Worse, they confessed that they are not orphans.  
They claim that their families are not even poor.  They would have been "okay" in China.  We asked why they helped to  deceive us.  "I just wanted to come to the U.S.  I know I don't belong here.  The paperwork is all lies."  The other "son" is running away from a challenging situation at home.  We have shared everything with our agency.  They claim to care, but two days before the Chinese delegation visited the agency, I asked the agency to put our letter detailing our situation into the hands of the Chinese officials.  I also told the agency that our Luoyang young men were ready to tell the agency how the fraud and deception were carried out against the agency and against adoptive parents.  Didn't our agency want this information BEFORE the delegation arrived, so that the agency would know more before discussing the Luoyang "inconsistencies" and "discrepancies" with the Chinese delegation?  
There was no response from the agency. So, the courageous women who put letters into the hands of the Chinese adoption officials also delivered our letter.
My husband and I refuse to live a lie.  This is a clear case of child laundering, and we are going to do our best to report it, expose it, and fight it.  I imagine there are some Chinese families that now regret making the decision to give their children to the "Journey of Hope" scheme.  We hope "adoptees" can be reunited with their families.  Our one "son" recently pulled out pictures of his "real" family, pictures he has kept hidden since coming home with us in 2010.  It was a strange moment to hear about his "real family."  This is the boy who looked into the agency camera, as he was being videotaped for the "Journey of Hope" program, and said he just wanted "a family of his own."  It was a performance that made my husband almost cry.  It made my husband decide we should pursue the "Journey of Hope" adoption. Now we know our "poor, traumatized, disadvantaged orphan boy" HAS a family of his own.  All his aunts and his uncle came to say good-bye the week before we arrived in China to "adopt" him. 
Now I know why he has yet to learn how to spell his new mother's name -- my name.  I am not his mother.  Never will be.  His real mother is alive and living outside Luoyang.  I am just the stupid overweight American female who is feeding, educating, doctoring, clothing, entertaining, etc. him.  The facts about the second "son" is just as depressing.  Neither "son" is afraid of former Director Pei.  Neither is afraid that something will happen to his family if the truth is told.

Well, as far as we are concerned the game is over.  Our agency tries to convince us that the "boys" are better off with us.  It was suggested twice that we contact another Christian family that is in our same position (2 older non-orphan boys), a family that has decided to keep the truth hidden, because they think their "sons" are better off with them!  I don't think that is a judgment call any deceived family has a right to make.  Laws were broken.  Visa fraud was committed.   I don't want to talk to a Christian family that has decided to sweep the truth under the rug.  My Bible tells me we need to be "above reproach."
The second agency strategy to deter us from pursuing the truth: Aren't we concerned about, gasp, deportation?  Aren't we concerned about, gasp, retribution against the birth families?  No.  We are concerned about the other three TRUE children in our family who have been cheated and hurt by this wretched deception.  Our children are watching to see what we do with this terrible crime.  We are concerned about the other honest, loving American families about to buy the lie.  The fear tactics don't work here.
Well, third strategy -- Don't we understand that there is no foster care system in China?  "Boys" like ours are "at risk," even if they are not orphans.  Both of our Luoyang young men were attending school, living with family, eating well, growing up fine.  The assumption that the "Journey of Hope" "kids" are needy needs to be seriously questioned.  In our case, both "kids" and their families were driven by GREED, not need.  The tens of thousands of dollars we spent for the pleasure of being manipulated and deceived could have gone a LONG, LONG way to helping scores of "at risk" kids, really at risk kids.  Besides the shock and grief of finding out we have been completely defrauded, we mourn the fact that two REAL orphans did not get adopted by our family.
But we know God is in control.  He did not cause this, but he permitted it to happen to our family.  SO THAT WE COULD FIGHT THIS ABUSE of children, Chinese families, and American families.
We refuse to live the lie.  We will not perjure ourselves and we will not encourage these young men in our care to perjure themselves. This is a hideous mockery of adoption. We are pursuing the truth.  I wish the families that have decided to accept the lie would change their minds. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How & Why an Orphanage Joins the IA Program

It is a rare opportunity to interview an officer of an orphanage just joining China's international adoption program, to get to talk with them before they have become jaded, cautious, and "corporate." This month on our subscription blog we talked with an officer of a "fresh face" on China's IA scene. Having just joined the international adoption program, we asked him what was required to join, why the orphanage waited, and what he feels about it. Along the way he provides some very interesting answers to our questions. Our subscription blog is a forum to discuss interviews, analysis, and share personal experiences in a private setting. If you are interested in having a "College-level" knowledge of China's international adoption program, our subscription blog provides the most in-depth detail and data available. We positively guarantee you will enjoy your subscription.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Ultimate Resource: Orphanage Data Books

I didn't realize when I began collecting finding ad newspapers in 2002 just how much valuable information they would provide. At that time, orphanages didn’t provide the finding ads to adoptive families; the ads were simply an “internal” procedural artifact required by the Chinese government in order for a child to be internationally adopted. As our collection of finding ad newspapers grew, I began to realize that the information contained in the ads could provide a picture of a different nature, a demographic picture, of an orphanage’s adoption program. By compiling the finding ages, genders, health data, finding location, and even, in some cases, the Chinese names themselves, I was able to draw important conclusions about the children's finding circumstances, such as whether the location was frequently cited by the orphanage, how common a child’s finding age was, and whether there were patterns that displayed non-random findings. With all of the data from a particular orphanage, I found I could compare a single finding—the proverbial “tree”—against the backdrop of the entire “forest” of findings from that orphanage.

Although we are able to synthesize the data from the finding ads into a very informative Birth Parent Search Analysis or Orphanage Reliability Analysis for adoptive families, in those reports we are only able to touch the surface of an orphanage's finding data. We are excited to now be able to offer adoptive families the opportunity to obtain the finding ad data for their child's orphanage as early as 1999, compiled and organized into a beautiful, 6"x9" hardbound book.

Our data books tabulate the information contained in the finding ads for every child submitted for international adoption from that orphanage from either 1999 when the finding ads started, or from when the orphanage joined the international adoption program.

We are currently releasing the books for Guangdong Province, but will have Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Anhui and other Provinces available in 2013. The Orphanage Data Books come complete with beautiful illustrations, a helpful introduction, and a summary of orphanage information that will allow adoptive families to identify other children found at the same finding location or on the same day, detect patterns not covered in our analysis reports, or just possess all of the primary data for their child's orphanage.

Not only will the publication of the records in the Orphanage Data Books be of interest and use to adoptees and their families, the finding ads represent a historical record of the tens of thousands of children adopted internationally from China, much like the immigration records of Ellis Island tell a story of the 12 million people who migrated to the United States between 1892 and 1954. Although of limited importance at the time they were created, the Ellis Island records are now actively mined for individual and collective information by direct descendants of the immigrants.

We are very confident that adoptive families will treasure this record of their child's orphanage for years to come.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

New Offerings from Research-China.Org

Two years ago we recognized that many adoptive families were growing interested in searching for their child's birth family in China, either at the behest of the child them-self, or in order to have information down the road.  As a response to this demand, we introduced our "Birth Parent Search Analysis" (BPSA).  This report contains two primary sections of data and information -- information on the overall demographics of the orphanage itself, including specific information on the child's finding location; and information how patterns and other characteristics of the orphanage and the child's finding impact a birth parent search.  The report draws on the hundreds and often thousands of children submitted by each orphanage for international adoption.  The report has been very popular, as has been the Birth Parent Search Group that was created to allow informed adoptive families a place to share ideas and experiences relating with China's adoption program and their individual search experience.  Research-China.Org's Birth Parent Search Group is the largest and most informative China Birth Parent Search Group in existence.

But many adoptive families are not interested in conducting a birth parent search, but are curious to know more about their child's orphanage program.  How many boys have been adopted, where are most of the children found, can the finding information given be trusted, or is there evidence that findings are "non-random".  To present "just the facts" we have created a new report, our "Orphanage Reliability Analysis" (ORA).  This report focuses more intensely on the qualities, exploring more deeply the patterns and characteristics of an orphanage, and providing more detail concerning your child's finding, as well as a general look.  This report provides a deeper analysis as to the integrity of the orphanage information. 

If you are contemplating a search for your child's birth family, and want to associate with similarly-minded adoptive families, our BPSA is the single most important step you can take on that journey.

If you currently have no plans to conduct a search, but have an interest in understanding your child's history in more detail, our ORA will be of tremendous benefit.

Research-China.Org is very confident that either of these reports, based on more than a decade of data from each orphanage, will provide answers to adoptive parent's questions and concerns, and allow them to honestly and factually answer the questions of their adoptive children.

Friday, August 03, 2012

New Adoptee Birth Parent Search Group

Over the years, we have noticed an increasing interest among the "pioneers" of China's international adoption program, as near adult and adult adoptees have contacted us for assistance in searching for birth parents.  In response to this increased interest, we have formed a sister Birth Parent Search Group just for adoptees.  This group is set up, and will be run by a Chinese adoptee.  Experienced searchers are part of the group to assist with questions of procedure and methods, but by and large this group is to allow adoptees to assist each other in a safe and understanding environment of like-minded and supportive fellow adoptees.

If you are an adoptee from China, older than 16, and would like to join our trail-blazing project, simply sent a membership request to the group moderator at  Our group moderator will be in touch to confirm your membership.

We hope this group will provide older adoptees the tools, resources, and experience to conduct a successful search.


Monday, July 09, 2012

Time to Change the Usual "Story"

Recent announcements by the Chinese government made the following essay from our subscription blog timely. 

I can't even remember what prompted the conversation, but it involved the topic of our work, and a story we were working on.  As we were eating dinner in our backyard a week or so ago, my youngest daughter Meilan asked how she had come into the orphanage.  When we first adopted her, she displayed some mild anger issues, and one day soon after coming home she explained that she never understood why we had brought her to the orphanage.  We gently explained that we had not brought her to the orphanage, but that we had adopted her from the orphanage.  "We have videos we can show you of your adoption sweetie.  We would never have brought you to the orphanage."  Later we found out the reason for her confusion -- her birth family had brought her to the orphanage, relinquishing her under the guise that she would be educated "in the city" and then returned to them.

So, here we were, eight years later, discussing some aspect of our research, and our youngest asked "Was I brought into the orphanage?"  Before my wife or I even had a chance to answer, our oldest, Meikina, turned to her youngest sister and, with contempt on her lips, flatly stated.  "Meilan, we were left on the side of the road by our birth mothers."

The contempt was not for her sister, but for the thought.  Meikina viewed the idea that her birth mother had abandoned her on the side of the road with pure contempt.  Meilan, confused by Meikina's answer, turned to me and asked, "Is that true?"

I used to think so.  I entered the China adoption program in 1996, a result of the controversy surrounding the "Dying Rooms" and publicity over China's "orphan problem".  I, like thousands of other families then and now, assumed that the children in China's orphanages had ended up there through anonymous abandonments at places like the Civil Affairs Bureau, an area school, or the local hospital.  The abandonment stories of my daughters became almost holy, with reverential visits to the finding locations, emotional interviews with finders, and sacred "Lifebooks" with photos, maps, and drawings.

In 2000, I returned to China and interviewed one of Meikina's two finders.  She recounted how she had been walking to work with her coworker one morning, had heard a baby's cry over the noise of the crowd, had investigated and found a cardboard box containing a small, two-day old baby girl.  As she described it, the baby was dressed in "countryside clothes", had an empty bottle lying next to her, and two hundred yuan in cash with a red birth note.  The finder's words became a sacred text for me, and I would journey to the Civil Affairs Bureau whenever I was in Dianbai, to sit and watch the location, imagining over and over Meikina's finding as described by her finder.  For me, it was clear that Meikina had been abandoned on the side of the road by her birth mother.

The Hunan scandal of 2005 was the first crack in the veneer of authenticity for me and our adoptions, and those of many others.  Here was an event that seemed to contradict everything we knew about China's orphan problem.  Testimony given in that trial showed that rather than having more babies than they could handle, as had been commonly assumed by Westerners, that in reality by 1996 orphanages in Hunan, Guangdong, Chongqing and Sichuan were beginning to feel pressure to go out into the countrysides surrounding their orphanages and look for kids.  Employees began to be pressured to find kids or lose their jobs; rewards began to be offered for each child brought to the orphanage.  In the Duan case alone, over 1,000 children were moved from near and remote distances to the Hengyang County, Qidong, Hengshan, and other Hunan scandal facilities, and stories fabricated for each child: "Found abandoned at the bus station," "found abandoned at the Xinhua Book Store," "Found abandoned at the Hengyang Meat Processing plant."  The Hunan scandal records show that over 95% of the children adopted from these orphanages had not been abandoned, but had been transported from other areas, where "finders" had received the children from birth parents.  Rather than being abandoned, these thousands of children had been "relinquished", a term that more accurately conveys the chain of custody that occurred.

The Hunan scandal served as the "paradigm shifter" that allowed future research and media investigations to reveal that issues of baby-buying,  Family Planning confiscations, and other extra-legal methods of obtaining children were frequently and pervasively used by orphanages to procure children for adoption.  First-hand accounts of birth families, foster families, Civil Affairs officials, and finders reveal that nearly every orphanage in Chongqing, Jiangxi, Hunan, and the other large supplying Provinces employs some manner of "incentive program" to recruit children into their facilities.  Some pay money, others work with Family Planning, others make false assurances to birth families of education and other opportunities in order to have those birth families relinquish their children.

Thus, for the vast majority of children adopted from China, the official story of how they came to be in the orphanage is a falsehood, created by orphanage directors in order to be able to submit a child for international adoption.  The description of their being found at the gate of some facility by some unnamed or named individual is almost always a lie.  In the lion's share of cases, the children submitted for international adoption were "relinquished" -- given by their birth families to someone, who in turn brought the children to the orphanage.  Only a small percentage of children were truly simply found abandoned.

Why does any of this matter?  Because I believe that for a child to be told their birth family "abandoned" her when that is not the case creates a feeling of contempt and anger for a birth parent where none is deserved.  My wife Lan returned to re-interview Meikina's finder last year, over ten years after my visit.  This time there was no orphanage director sitting "disinterested" nearby as she was asked the questions.  This time the interviewer (my wife) knew the right questions to ask, when to accept and when to question further.  This time the truth was recounted -- that the story of Meikina's finding was a fiction, that her finders had no idea where Meikina came from.  This time the orphanage director confessed, in the face of this contradictory evidence, to having built a fairy tale in order to get Meikina adopted.  Do I know she wasn't found abandoned in 1997?  No, but I now know enough about her orphanage to seriously question whether children were found abandoned, rather than being "relinquished" by the birth family directly or indirectly.

So, at that dinner last month I told my daughters that.  I told them that we had always been told that children had been abandoned by their birth families, left at various locations to be found by others.  But I told them that our research had caused us to question whether that was true.  I told them that in our experience, almost all of the children for whom we had done research showed that they had not been abandoned, but that rather they had been given by birth parents to people who arranged for them to come into the orphanage.  We explained that the reasons were complicated, but that it was very unlikely that their birth families had really abandoned them on the road as Meikina had stated. 

As I thought back over that conversation, I wondered at the tone of Meikina's statement.  There was some real pain in her comment, and I wondered if it was real, or just my imagination.  So, as we are wont to do in our house, we conducted a poll.  I asked all three of my girls to rate, from 1 (highly negative feelings) to 10 (very positive feelings), how the following descriptions made them feel:

1)  I was abandoned by my birth family at the gate of a school
2)  I was relinquished by my birth family and brought to the orphanage

I chose "relinquish" (which I had to interpret for my girls) because it is as neutral a term as I could come up with.  The word itself carries no connotation of impropriety or corruption; rather it simply implies that a child was transferred from one person to another until they reached the orphanage.  Thus, the comparison is really between being left "alone" (abandonment) or being constantly supervised (relinquishment).

The results were interesting, but not unexpected.  In answer to the first scenario (being abandoned) the girls assigned an average score of 2.6.  This score hides one completely neutral score of 5, because, as Meigon explained, she did not find the scenario overly emotive.  The other two assigned a 1 or 2 to the scenario (highly sad).

The average score rose substantially for the second question, using "relinquished", with the average score rising to 6.6, with individual scores falling between 6 and 7.5.  Meilan explained her increase, going from 1 to 6, with these words:  "In the second case I was protected, and in the first case people might not reach you in time."

I think, given the overall realities of China's adoption program -- the abundant evidence of ongoing ethical breaches, the documented instances of widespread baby-buying, and the stories of Family Planning campaigns and abuses -- that adoptive families would do well to "re-invent" the traditional story of how their child came to be in the orphanage.  Rather than promoting an "abandonment"-centered history, with the customary photos, visits to the finding location on heritage trips, etc., more accurate and more emotionally satisfying to our children would be a "relinquishment"-centered story-line.  This would involve the blunt admission that we simply don't know how our kids came into the orphanage most of the time, but that the evidence in most instances suggests that our children were transferred, person to person, to the orphanage.  Not only is this scenario likely to be most accurate in the majority of cases, but it will be emotionally healthier for our children.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Adopting "Children in Plight"

Today's announcement that China will now begin officially adopting children with living relatives to foreign families may seem like a new policy for many outside the adoption community, but this program has been quietly taking place for years. Families of older children from Luoyang, Henan, one of the "trial" provinces, have known about such a program there over a decade. What can be hoped is that with this official acknowledgement an accurate awareness on the part of birth families and adoptive families will be possible. In the past this has not been the case.

Abandonment patterns suggest such programs have been going on for years in orphanages scattered across China. Children adopted from these orphanages seem, in nearly every case that has been investigated, to have been relinquished by birth parents or other birth relatives to the orphanage under the guise that their child would simply be educated in the orphanage school and returned to the family at the end of their schooling. This "education program" is pitched by orphanage officials as a way to have the expenses of raising the child subsidized by the government, and having the child receive a good education, usually in the "big city". For parents struggling to provide these opportunities, such an offer is hard to resist.

Only after the child has had its papers submitted by the orphanage for international adoption and is about to be internationally adopted are the birth families made aware that their child will be leaving China. The orphanage officials then pressure the child's guardian (parent, grandparent, etc.) to sign over guardianship to the orphanage. "You want your child to have a good life, right?" and other such manipulators are used to coerce the family into giving up their child.

In the past, all of this was done behind the scenes. Adoptive families were not told their children had been relinquished to the orphanage by their birth families; rather, they were given adoption paperwork stating the child had been found "abandoned" in a park, railway station, or found wandering the street. Birth families were deceptively told that their child was going to the U.S. for an education, and would return after graduating to get a good job and take care of the family. All of the players in the adoption were deceived into believing the adoption was something it was not.

Perhaps that will change now that the Chinese government is officially embracing the adoption of "Children in Plight". Perhaps birth families will be told when they relinquish their children that they will probably never see them again. Perhaps adoptive families will be told that the child they are adopting had not been abandoned, but had been relinquished by its birth family with the expectation that the child will return to China one day to reunite with their birth family. Perhaps all the parties involved will be truthfully told the true nature of the adoption they are undertaking.

And perhaps a tiger truly can change its stripes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hengshan Orphanage Logs

Research-China.Org has obtained all of the Hengshan County orphanage records submitted to the Qidong Court as part of the Hunan scandal trials of February 2006. These records contain information for most of the children that entered the Hengshan orphanage in 2005.

If your child was brought to the Hengshan County orphanage in 2005, there is a very good chance we have records relating to her. Please contact us for more information.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bringing the Hunan Scandal Into Focus

Just up on our Subscription Blog:

Imagine being able to sit down with the Duan family as an adoptive parent of a child from Hunan Province. What questions would you ask? What answers would you seek?

Last month we sat down with the Duan parents and the recently released from prison daughter, and asked them pointed questions about how they came to be involved in trafficking, where the more than 1,000 kids came from, which orphanages outside the original six were involved, how they moved the kids, and many other questions. The answers bring much more clarity to the scandal, and show how widespread that event was, involving orphanages in Chongqing, Sichuan, Guangxi, Guangdong and other areas in Hunan Province. By the end of the interview, both the interviewee and the interviewer were in tears as the personal cost of the events were relived.

Subscribing is quick and easy, and the information is guaranteed to enlighten!

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Dark Side of China's "Aging Out Orphan" Program

9/24/13 Update: Since the publication of this essay, China's "aging out" program has grown.  Director Pei, retired director of the Luoyang orphanage, is now the in-country liason for China's "orphan hosting" program, whereby supposedly older, aging out children are invited to travel to the U.S. to live with American families, with the hope that these families will decide to adopt them. Director Pei has begun working with director Zhou of the Fuzhou orphanage in Jiangxi Province, recruiting older children from their areas to participate in these programs.  This "Orphan Hosting" program has been embraced by New Horizons, who is working with director Pei,  CCAI, America World Adoption, Lifeline, and other agencies. The most recent fabricated "aging out" adoption was completed in June 2013.

4/24/12 Update:  The past three weeks have apparently seen a lot of activity at WACAP, with several key staff members rumored to have left the agency.  Additionally, families have come forward reporting similar experiences with other orphanages, including one assistant orphanage director of a large Jiangxi orphanage who allegedly laundered his own daughter for international adoption.  The U.S. State Department is rumored to be looking into the allegations presented in this article, although I have no first-hand confirmation of that.  

4/4/12 Update:  One of the families profiled in this article has decided to lend her own voice to the story.  "Debbie" writes an immensely popular blog here, and posted about her story this morning.


I didn't want to post this article publicly. I have been pretty much in a "zen" place, posting the in-depth articles about China's international adoption program to my subscription blog.  I have known about the issues discussed in this article for a while, but felt that families wanting to know more could subscribe to our blog.  This kept the "blow back" from waiting families and others at a minimum, since subscription blog readers are composed of families who have deep experience in China's program, and could accept the stories and discoveries without too much emotional anxiety.

After it was posted to our subscription blog, other families stepped forward, and the gravity of the situation became obvious, and too important to remain "hidden" from other adoptive families. So, after much consideration, I felt that waiting families and those who have already brought home one of these children needed to know the potential problems that exist in their adoptions.

The sad reality is that as the number of healthy, young children coming into China's orphanages has declined, waiting families have often migrated to China's Special Needs and Special Focus program. Orphanages have responded to this increased interest by inventing creative means for obtaining children to satisfy this new demand.  The following article focuses on one well-known orphanage, but evidence shows that this program is wide-spread (see related links at the conclusion of this article).

I contacted WACAP for their input, and they responded with a lengthy response, insisting that I correct my "misunderstandings". I informed them that while I appreciated their perspective, the information in the following article originated from first-hand accounts of adoptive families and others. I did tell WACAP that I would be happy to post their comment at the end of the article, but they declined my offer. I personally have no ax to grind with WACAP, and appreciate the difficult position they find themselves in when dealing with China. They are used in this article merely as the unfortunate example to illustrate an extensive and deep-rooted problem; certainly other agencies are equally involved.

I have long ago given up on the hope that China's program will change, its abuses end. Therefore, this article is simply a "red flag" to prospective adoptive families to learn from the sad experience of these families, and a host of others, to be aware of potential deceptions and abuses. For families that have already adopted an "aging out" child (Although this article focuses on adoptees older than ten years old, the problem encompasses children of all ages), be alert to red flags in your own relationships and conversations with your adopted child. This article will hopefully shed a bright light on these deceptions, and protect future birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive families from entering agreements blindly.

If you have a similar story to those recounted below, please feel free to leave a comment, or contact me at BrianStuy@Research-China.Org.  Your privacy will be completely protected.  

Brian H. Stuy


Luoyang City Orphanage, Henan Province

The Dark Side of China's "Aging Out" Program

In the Fall of 2008, WACAP adoption agency began to send e-mails out to many adoption groups pleading for a new group of older orphans who needed families. "They are all listed as healthy," the broadcast e-mail read, "They are in danger of turning 14 and 'ageing (sic) out.' This means they may have no support or resources and have to live on their own in China - if they are not adopted before they turn 14." This particular group would become known as the first "Journey of Hope" program through WACAP, one of the largest China adoption programs in the U.S. Emails went out and word spread through the Yahoo groups discussing WACAPs new program, which included the Luoyang orphanage adoption group, where adoptive families were advocating for children "soon to be aging out" of that orphanage, which comprised the majority of the children on WACAP's list. One Luoyang adoptive parent wrote of "a program that was to get older kids adopted. Perhaps there is a new effort to get the older kids paperwork ready and have files in at CCAA. Maybe, they are being added to CCAA's new 'shared' list. Thirty or so agencies are now being 'tested' with the new 'shared' list of older or sn kids."

Observers of China's international adoption program have observed that the program has "morphed" over the years, with particularly sharp changes occurring after the Hunan scandal of 2005. Not only did the number of children coming into China's orphanages experience a sharp decline following December 2005, but the composition of those foundlings also changed. Whereas historically more than 95% of foundlings had been extremely young healthy females, following the scandal the percentage of male and SN foundlings began to sharply climb. Today, around a third of all Chinese adoptions are male, and over half are Special Needs. To take an illustrative example, between 2000 and 2011, Guangdong Province submitted 2,343 boys for adoption out of a total of 23,032 children, or roughly 10% boys. However, that average masks a substantial shift that occurred after 2005. In the six years between 2000 and 2005, Guangdong Province orphanages submitted 14,266 children for adoption, of which 488 were boys (3.4%). In the six years between 2006 and 2011, Guangdong orphanages submitted 8,766 files for adoption, of which 1,855 were for boys (21%). The situation is similar when it comes to special needs submissions: Between 2000 and 2005, 218 SN children were submitted by the Guangdong orphanages, representing 1.5% of all adoptions from that Province. That number increased to 822 between 2006 and 2011, raising the average to 9.4%. A majority (78%) of these children were found after 2005.

This kind of demographic shift is typical, if not more pronounced, in the other Provinces as well.

With that shift has come an increase in awareness of "Special focus" children, including those in danger of "aging out". Attentive observers rightfully wonder where these children came from, and why the sudden apparent shift in cultural norms that have resulted in such a dramatic increase in male children being made available for adoption.

There was an overwhelming response from the adoption community to WACAP's publicity of their "Journey of Hope" children, and the majority of the children were soon matched, but not all. More than a year passed and there were still children waiting from the program. Some of the children had been moved to the shared list and other Luoyang children were beginning to show up on individual lists. Some children had already been home for a year. The children left behind were communicating with those who had already found families, questioning when they too might have a family. The pleas of one particular child, "Jonathan", pulled on the heartstrings of "Sue" (not her real name) as he continued to wait. Jonathan was telling his friends who were already in America that if he did not have a family soon, the orphanage would kick him out. "Someone help me get adopted," he pleaded to his friends. Word spread and Sue wondered what would happen to him, so she called WACAP and inquired if she could actually bring him home.

In 2010, Sue and her family would travel to Luoyang and formally adopted Jonathan into their family.

The next few months went well, and although there were language barriers and other communication issues, Sue felt that things were progressing as well as expected. But one thing bothered Sue: Her thirteen year-old son had a developed physique, and was sprouting a mustache.

Sue began to ask her son if he was really thirteen, and he assured her that he was. "Are you sure you are thirteen?" she pushed. As he had an upcoming birthday, she wanted to make sure that the celebration was purposeful. But Jonathan exhibited no excitement about the celebration, and in fact acted like the whole episode embarrassed him. Sue found this puzzling. "Perhaps he has never had a birthday celebration," she wondered, "the poor boy." Again she asked him about his age. "Can you at least give me what Chinese sign you were born under?" she pleaded. One afternoon, after pushing him yet again to give her some clue as to when he was actually born, he responded, "China told me never to tell. China said I could never tell my real birthday."

Sue was stunned. "You are our child now, they can't do anything to you." Her son understood, but was still terrified to say anything. "No, I can't tell, I can't tell, China said to never tell." No matter how hard Sue pushed, Jonathan would not relent.

A few weeks later, Jonathan initiated the conversation. "Can China get me in trouble?" he asked. No, was Sue's answer, you are safe from China. "OK," Jonathan replied, "then I am 17, not 13."

Sue did not know what to think. She had gone to China to adopt a boy that was ostensibly a young teen, and now she realized that she had adopted a near-adult. Who had known this? Her agency? The orphanage? Jonathan continued: "You know, I am not alone. There are lots and lots of my friends that have the same story." Indeed, witnesses in the orphanage remember Director Pei, when he heard in 2008 that WACAP was coming to start up the "Journey of Hope" program, going out with the orphanage van and coming back a short time later with two teenage kids to put in the program.

Sue went to retrieve Jonathan's paperwork received at his adoption. The paperwork says your birth mother is dead. No, she is alive. It said your grand-father was old and ailing. No, he is not. He is alive and well. And then Sue recalled a conversation at the school conference a few months earlier. Jonathan's teacher mentioned how neat it was that he could still talk to his brother in China. Sue assumed the teacher was confused, as she had no knowledge of a relationship with family members, especially a brother. Surely the teacher misunderstood. Sue was wrong.

It was in that moment that Jonathan decided to open up and tell his story. "My birth family visited me while I was in the orphanage. I have a photo we took as a family a week before you came to adopt me." Jonathan retrieved the secret photo and showed it to Sue. She observed how fit and happy the family looked, not at all like the "old and ailing" grandparents she had read about in Jonathan's pre-adoption descriptions. Jonathan explained that his birth family was against the idea of Jonathan going to the U.S., out of fear they would never see him again. Jonathan, however, was excited. This was his chance to become rich and famous.

But if Jonathan's birth family was against him being adopted, how did he end up in the orphanage?

This question was posed to Jonathan's birth grandfather, who was the individual that had relinquished Jonathan to the orphanage. When asked why he had turned his grandson to the orphanage, he recounted how one day he and his wife were approached by Luoning County Civil Affairs officials. They started the conversation by observing that if he and his wife were having any troubles raising their grandson, that the officials could help arrange for their grandson to be taken to the orphanage, and the orphanage would help raise him. "If your grandson goes into the orphanage," they were promised, "he will get a good education and get a good job." Jonathan would later tell us that it wasn't until 2009, just before he was adopted to the United States, that his grandparents learned that he would be leaving Luoyang. At no point during the "pitch" did the Civil Affairs officials notify him or his grandparents that he would be leaving China, and when his birth family learned of that fact two years later, they were extremely worried and upset.

"Do you believe he really will come back one day and take care of you?" we asked the sixty-five year old spry and energetic grandfather. "Yes," was his reply.

Jonathan's story is consistent with others from Luoyang. "Kate" adopted her daughter from Luoyang in 2010, along with a deaf child from the Beijing orphanage. Kate's Luoyang daughter also opened up and revealed that her birth family had also been approached by officials who discussed relinquishing her. Two days before Kate finalized the adoption, and when Kate was already in the Province to finalize her adoption, the Luoyang orphanage still did not have the relinquishment paperwork signed by the birth family.   To increase the pressure on the grandmother to sign the required paperwork, the orphanage took Kate's daughter on a two-hour drive to her grandmother's house.  The orphanage needed the grandmother to sign papers relinquishing her grand-daughter so that the adoption could be finalized.  With Kate in the area, time was running out.

This trip re-traumatized Kate's daughter, forcing her to experience the pain of losing her birth family all over again.  Kate's daughter was fairly sure her Grandmother did not want her to be adopted and taken away.

As Kate's Luoyang daughter told her the story, Kate felt a familiar sense of outrage, for her Beijing daughter had also told her that she had been brought to that orphanage as a six-year old under similar pretenses. Kate's Beijing daughter was sent to a Beijing school for the deaf, which she attended during the week.  Since there were no classes held on the weekend, Kate's daughter stayed in the Beijing #2 orphanage on the weekend.  Kate's daughter recounted how her parents would frequently visit her, bringing her treats as she went to school in the Beijing school. She would return home for Chinese New Years, but otherwise remained at the orphanage for most of the year. She had lived two hours outside Beijing, in a rural farming community. One day, without any warning or preparation, Kate's Beijing daughter was adopted by Kate, leaving her family to wonder what ever happened to their daughter.  The Beijing #2 orphanage apparently also raised Kate's daughter's age from eleven to nearly fourteen in order to take advantage of the speed with which "aging out" children are adopted by Western families. 

WACAP has frequently told adoptive families concerned with hearing such stories from their children that kids often fantasize about their birth families, supposedly unable to understand why they were "abandoned". But Luoyang's recruitment program was witnessed first-hand by Michael Melsi, a twenty-something American who started volunteering in the Luoyang orphanage in 2006 as an English language instructor. Michael spent most of his time in the Luoyang orphanage on the fourth and six floors of the orphanage, among the teenagers in Luoyang's "Special Focus" program. There, he befriended most of the children waiting to be adopted from the waiting child lists of WACAP, CCAI, and other agencies.

At the beginning of his time in Luoyang, Michael observed that “it was pretty apparent that the kids had some kind of distant relatives that were involved in their lives to some degree, never in a million years at that time would I have thought that they actually had parents or close relatives.  But it was clear that even though they were in an orphanage, they were from a community where they still had ties.”

That point was driven home during Spring Festival 2009. Michael assumed this would be a sad time for the kids in the orphanage, so he arranged to bring the kids some treats and activities to help celebrate the Chinese “Christmas”. When he arrived at the orphanage, he found that very few of the older kids (older than 6) were there. Michael wondered where they all had gone, and asked the orphanage staff where the kids had disappeared to. At first he was told the children had been sent to spend the festival with area families, who had volunteered to help give the kids a bit of “normal lives”. That did not sound right to Michael, so he pushed further, and was eventually told that the kids had gone home to their extended birth families (aunts, uncles, grandparents) to spend the holidays with them.

When WACAP formed the “Journey of Hope” program in 2008, Michael noticed that some of the older kids were being sent out of the orphanage and disappearing. When he asked the orphanage staff and other children about this, he was told that those kids had “selfish relatives” who were refusing to allow the adoption of their kids who they were unwilling to care for. Thus, the kids were being forced to leave the orphanage. Michael researched where some of his “kids” had ended up, and found that they had returned to their birth families. It soon became apparent in several cases that women who were initially said to be "aunts" were actually the children's birth mothers. When Michael asked the birth families why their kids had ended up in the Luoyang orphanage, they reluctantly told him that they had understood that the orphanage would provide for the expenses of raising their children. Furthermore, the birth parents felt it would offer their children the opportunity to get a better education and live in the city, which they believed would provide the children with a better life in the future. When the orphanage began to pressure them to sign documents relinquishing parental rights to their own children, they had refused.

Michael became increasingly concerned with what he was seeing in the Luoyang orphanage, and contacted several adoptive families to inform them of the situation. He also decided to contact WACAP directly, and outlined many of his findings and concerns. Within two days, Michael was contacted by the orphanage and informed that he would not be permitted to return to the orphanage, with officials citing concerns that he was a carrier of swine flu.


Director Pei, the Luoyang orphanage director, presented WACAP with a plan that he was formulating. Although no longer the orphanage director (the orphanage saw a change of directors in 2010), nevertheless in late 2011 Pei contacted WACAP and informed them that he was interested in guiding a group of relatives of children adopted through WACAP's "Journey of Hope" program to the United States.

WACAP has had a long history with the Luoyang orphanage, going back to the early 1990s when the agencies head, Janice Neilson, formed a mutually beneficial relationship with the orphanage director, Pei Zhong Hai. Over the course of the next seventeen years, WACAP arranged funding for the Luoyang orphanage, and Pei provided children for adoption.

So it was that WACAP contacted "Debbie", the adoptive mother of one of the "Journey of Hope" girls, and asked if they would be agreeable to a visit by their daughter's biological Uncle in their home. Of course this came as a huge shock to Debbie and her husband, who could not understand how the people described in their daughter's adoption paperwork as being too poor to care for their daughter were now suddenly able to afford to fly to the U.S. and tour around with their daughter's orphanage director. They were angry, confused and very frustrated as the realization came to them that they had been deceived by the orphanage to begin with. They informed WACAP that they felt very uncomfortable with the situation, and WACAP informed Director Pei that Debbie and the other families were not welcoming of his proposal.

Debbie realizes now that she should have noticed the red-flags surrounding the "aging out" kids earlier, but chose to ignore what she described as disquieting clues. "All the them had the same stories," she remembers. And indeed, a perusal of WACAP's 2009 "Journey of Hope" listing bears this out: "WCL, Contest winner and artist. Healthy 12 year old boy. . . .He has been at the orphanage for over three years. He remembers nothing about his birth parents or where he lived before the orphanage." "XL. Violinist. Healthy 12 year old girl. . . . She has no memory of her birth family." "HL. Athlete. Healthy 12 year-old boy. . . When asked about his memories before he arrived at the orphanage he said he has no memories before that time." "GBL, Basketball player and jogger. Healthy 12 year old girl. . . . She has no memory of her birth family. "YHL, Performer, Healthy 12 year-old girl. . . . When asked about her birth parents, she said she does not remember anything."

When asked about these children, Jonathan admits that he is aware of several who know full well who their birth families are, and some of them were among the kids admonishing him to remain quiet. He recounts how in March 2007, the orphanage sent the van to pick him and the other children recruited by the Luoning County Civil Affairs Bureau up. On the day of the "pick up", all of the families were notified to bring their kids to the county Civil Affairs Bureau, where the the orphanage van waited. On the morning Jonathan was picked up, he was accompanied by ten or eleven other children, ranging in ages from a few months to over seventeen years old, mostly boys. All were allowed to say goodbye to their birth families before being loaded into the orphanage van and taken away to what most, if not all, felt was an orphanage education school.

In January 2011, the CCAA commended the Luoyang orphanage, describing them as a "Model Welfare Institute for International adoption in 2010", the year that Jonathan and his friends were adopted abroad. The Luoyang orphanage director boasted that "There is no trifling with international adoptions. The leaders of the Civil Affairs Bureau and the officers of our orphanage have attached great importance to the working of international adoption, from the preparation of the finding ads to the adoption paper work, to when the kids are sent into the arms of adoptive families, including the adoptive families returning back to visit the orphanage. All of these works were overseen by the director, with very carefully attention, and well done by following the rules step by step. This ensures that there was no mistake of any of those kids sent for international adoption. It also brought a new world for the growth of those kids."

Sue and the other families would disagree. While some of the families have been informed by their adoptive children of the truth behind their adoptions, many of the other children still urge Jonathan to remain quiet. "Don't tell! We were told we can never tell." Thus, there is little doubt that many families of Luoyang's "orphans" don't realize that their child, along with their birth family, really expect that this is simply a "study abroad" program. Already, stories of adoption disruptions and turmoil are being recounted as the children grow frustrated that they are not being given the material gifts that they had been promised. Unfortunately, Luoyang's program is in no way unique, as many orphanages across China have seen similar spikes in "aging out" children needing to be adopted.

The issues go beyond simply raising a child under false pretenses. Once an adoption, even one performed under false premises, is completed, the child becomes a legal beneficiary of the adoptive parents estate, for example. Then there are the issues surrounding the true nature of the relationship between these children and their adoptive families. As Sue recounted, she could see the stress of lying on her son's face as he repeatedly covered up the truth from her probing questions. One day, he just got tired of lying.

Sue articulates a cautionary note to families assuming that these "aging out" and other tales of woe are accurate:

People who adopt these aging out kids need to go into this knowing full well that it is very possible that this child is significantly older, already aged out, it is very possible that their birth dates were changed, it is very possible that they have birth family still there and that there is more to the story. It is not just the cut-and-dry ‘this orphan needs a home.’ You need to be sensitive to the question of whether an industry is being created by these aging out kids that you are feeding into when really they don’t need to be coming here.”

Related articles:"Promises, Promises!"
"China's New 'Orphan Program'" (Subscription blog article)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Review of Jim Garrow's "The Pink Pagoda"

I first became aware of Jim Garrow's story in March 2008, after an article was published in a Canadian magazine giving the basic elements of his story.   In June 2008, I decided to speak to the man personally and called him at his home in Ontario and asked him to go into the details of his work in more depth.  My intent was to publish the interviews in June 2008, but I was asked  to hold off, because there was a Canadian investigation into Garrow's claims of infant smuggling, and did not wish him to become cautious.  I finally decided to post the interviews to my blog after the GuelphMercury article was published in August 2010 confirming the investigation.  One can listen to our Garrow interviews here.

One is struck upon opening Jim Garrow's new book, "The Pink Pagoda", by the statements of support found in the first section of the book, entitled "Endorsements".  These written statements of support for Jim and his work come from such people as "Dr. Parry, Assistant to the CEO for the International Internet Alliance", a person and organization on whom I could find no information; Ross McKitrick, an outspoken critic of Global Warming; Robin W. Pifer, a Pastor of the Cedar Alliance Church; Walter Baker, executive director of the Fairhaven Bible Conference; William D. Gairdner, a former Olympic athlete and author of such books as "The Trouble with Canada," and "The War Against the Family"; a mysterious and unidentifiable "Dr. A.B.", allegedly of the Unesco-World Health Organization; Dr. Jim Garlow, a pastor and adoptive parent; and Jerome Corsi, author of "Where's the Birth Certificate?", about . . .  well you know what that is about.

All of Garrow's "Endorsement" authors are qualified by Garrow as "best-selling", "world-renowned", etc.  I will let the reader use Google to determine the accuracy of Garrow's claims about these individuals.  Garrow's book is published by WND Books, described by an editorial in the UK's Guardian as ""a niche producer of rightwing conspiracy theories, religious books and 'family values' tracts."  WND Books describes itself as “'fiercely independent', telling the stories that other publishers won’t." The point is that the reader should get an idea of the religious and political circles Jim Garrow associates with -- the birds of a feather thing -- which may prove useful as one begins reading his book. 

Jim introduces us to his story by describing his great success in all things financial, and how this success brought him to China.  The book, he writes, is the story of how he came to save over 40,000 babies between 2000 and 2012.  When I interviewed him in 2008, Garrow claimed to have saved 24,000.  By 2009 it had apparently risen to 31,000 (p. 149), 2010 the number had climbed to 34,000 and now, in 2012, it stands at 40,000 (Pink Pagoda "Introduction").  In his introduction he also admits that many might call him a "human trafficker", an accusation he freely and enthusiastically embraces.

Thus begins the exciting story of Jim Garrow's start and work in baby trafficking inside China.  In the first chapter, he describes saving the baby niece of his Chinese employee, "Xinyi", whose husband wanted to "put aside" the child because she was a girl.  Jim sets the stage for the conflict that will run through the entire book -- the family was forced to take these actions because of Chinese laws -- evil laws -- which practically forced a family to have a boy.  "As Chinese law dictates, only a male heir can inherit family property and also provide for the parents' elder years."  One is left to question why the upper-middle class birth family of this child would worry about these issues, given their employment at a large U.S. firm and their patently upscale urban lifestyle.  It would also belabor the point to discuss whether this assessment of Chinese law is even accurate, but Jim uses this statement to set the stage for why China had "become a nation awash in grief over having to make such unthinkable choices."  Jim contrasts this evil with the work that he feels called to do, which he explains using Bible scripture uttered by Jesus himself.

Jim goes on to recount how he met with the father of the unwanted baby, who had a plan to bring the baby to the area Buddhist monks who were willing to dispatch the child for him.  They were willing to do this, it was explained to the incredulous Garrow, because the monks believed in reincarnation and thus believed the child would have a better life in the next cycle. 

The only solution the father would accept was for the child to find a new home outside China, a promise Jim made without knowing how he would fulfill it.  As I read this event that set Garrow on his mission, I found myself wondering if any stereotype of Chinese society had not been employed: the powerful husband and the submissive wife; the low societal and religious value placed on a girl's life; the smells and noises in the couple's apartment, the endless fear that neighbors would hear the conversation and report them to the authorities.  I of course can't say that what Jim describes is impossible, but I can just say that my experience in observing my wife's urban family and thousands of couples through my own travels in China gives me the feeling that I am watching a "predictable" movie.  Having located and interviewed many birth families of unregistered children, I have found the neighbors aware and accepting of the situation, even protective.  I have found wives of urban couples to be assertive and active participants in matters of family business.  I read Jim's account, and while possibly true, I find the lens through which he sees the event as Western, simplified, and largely unfamiliar. 

I got the same feeling while reading Jim's account of how he found a home for the unwanted baby.  He met an American expat living in China whose wife lived in the United States.  The man explained that they wanted to adopt, but that it seemed to take a long time to do the paperwork, etc.  Jim told him he could adopt right away.  Now, I'm sure that most readers familiar with  the adoption might at this point be wondering how in the world this adoption could be completed.  I will let Jim describe the process:

At this point, there were no documents to accompany the baby and her new parents back to the United States. Those I would discover in one of the best libraries in the world for doing such research—the local beer house, where expats hang out. It was in one of those pubs that I met my “librarians,” who even went so far as to share copies of the documents from their own Chinese adoption process. Paperwork aside, I also learned valuable information about the entire process and what pitfalls to hopefully avoid. I had moved at God’s bidding into the adoption business, and I planned to run that business as efficiently as I did my schools. God bless the fool with a big heart. (pp. 11-12)

No mention of the need for an I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative); no consulate interview; it seems that all Jim had to do was produce some forged adoption documents and the U.S. government would issue the infant a visa.  The reader can decide how authentic Jim's account feels.

Jim also spends a lot of time reminding his readers of his stature, both financial and otherwise, in China.  He writes about his fancy car, his lush apartment, his ability to lavish financial gifts on those around him.  Two examples will serve to illustrate, but such examples could be multiplied many, many times.  In chapter 5 ("Walkabout") Jim recounts how he left his protective hotel to take a walk in the "other China".  He abandoned his "car and driver" to walk around Chongqing's poorer neighborhoods.  He gets lost, asks some kids where the nearest McDonalds was, and was escorted by fifteen street children there.  Jim then describes his arrival at the eatery:

The white-gloved gatekeeper greeted us at the door, and as she stared suspiciously at the boisterous group of children surrounding me, she asked in perfect English,
“How can I help you?”
I responded with the universal language: money. In China the currency is called renminbi. The slang expression is kwai. Think dollars and bucks. I handed her the equivalent of $140.00 to cover the cost of whatever the children wanted to eat. That $140.00 was equivalent to one month’s salary for the manager, and she knew that she could expect a very large tip for putting up with this ragtag group.

Another example of Jim's larges is recounted in chapter 7 ("The Pink Pagoda is Born"), where Jim describes what allowed him to be successful (and protected) inside China:

Back in China, I cut a major figure with my posh penthouse, Mercedes sedan, chauffeur, and money that I could spend as I chose. That ability to spend and transfer money was tied to my special red-and-gold foreign experts license, a document rarely accorded someone who wasn’t Chinese. Not only does that gold-embossed “passport” allow one to move money about without restrictions; it also protects the bearer from any kind of harassment at airports and the like. That document was always tucked into one of the pockets in my signature Tilley vest; that is still true here in Canada. I never leave home without it. One might be curious how I managed to get such a document. Think back to 2000, and that special student in my class at Shaw College in Canada. That special student is the one who invited me to come to China the first time, and who introduced me to the inner circles of connected, powerful people, including her uncle, Hu Jintao. No more needs to be said. (p.37)

Jim also recounts in nearly every chapter how much respect and reverence he experienced from the Chinese people themselves.  When a stranger mysteriously shows up in a Chongqing coffee house, he inexplicably says that Jim would make Dr. Bethune proud.  Jim continues:   

Yoda’s reference to Dr. Bethune was not the first time I had heard that comparison. Since my first trip to China, people had told me outright that they believed I was the reincarnation of the revered doctor who revolutionized medical procedures during the Second Sino-Japanese War. For Americans who might not recognize his name, the term MASH is certainly a famous acronym, and it was Dr. Bethune, a Canadian by birth, who developed the mobile medical units that were precursors of the MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) units instituted in 1945, after his death. Bethune’s mobile units, along with the MASH units that followed, were responsible for saving so many lives during the wars of his century, worldwide. The Bethune Institute was and is a paean to his legacy, which in some nearly inexplicable way, I have inherited. Using his name wasn’t so much a strategic move on my part as it was a dynamic, spiritual one. (p.53)

Earlier, Jim recounts this statement by one of his employees:  “I personally believe that Dr. Jim is the reincarnation of a saint, maybe Dr. Bethune, and I’m not alone in that belief. The Chinese people who come in contact with him believe that too. Even people who haven’t met him but who have heard about him speak his name with genuine reverence.” (p. 29)  It should be noted that Jim Garrow is not a "Dr." in any real sense, but the recipient of an honorary degree from a religious college.  He received that degree in 2008, long after the events recounted here, so this statement by his employee contains an anachronistic problem. 

This idea constitutes the second over-arching motif one sees in the the book: First, that Jim makes, and always has made, large amounts of money, and dispenses it like water.  Second, that he is comparable to the spiritual giants -- New Testament passages can be applied to him, others recognize his spiritual greatness as he walks down the street.  The couple that adopted Jim's first rescue, for example, observed: "But clearly, and I saw that for myself in China, everybody seemed to know who you were. Even walking down the street, Chinese people, even monks, just looked at you, and tried not to crowd you. I don’t know exactly what that was all about, but you definitely had presence and respect."

By chapter 13 ("The Great Wailing Wall") the feeling that I was reading a work of fiction became overpowering.  The accumulation of the bravado, the implausible episodes of meeting "Yoda", who would literally appear and disappear at will, and who was supposed to be a member of China's "KGB", left me believing that Jim was weaving a fantasy tale that incorporated every Western impression of China and her people.  Too much of what I read contradicted what I had myself experienced on my trips to China.  But, I kept thinking, "Perhaps I don't walk in the same circles as Jim.  Perhaps what he describes could have happened."  That possibility was shattered in chapter 13 of Jim's book, "The Great Wailing Wall".

Jim starts this chapter with "Yoda", his secret Chinese army intelligence benefactor, telling Jim he had arranged a trip for him to learn an important lesson.  "Dr. Garrow," explained Yoda's two associates, "we are going to show you something which may shock you, but it will give you an understanding of what we Chinese think and where we come from.”  Jim goes on to matter-of-factually state that "We headed for Yunnan province, about two hours from the city of Kunming."  Jim presents this as a "day trip", which struck me as odd given that Kunming is over a thousand kilometers from Chongqing.  Distance aside, Jim recounts how he was brought to a Buddhist temple outside Kunming, and given over to two monks who escorted Jim on a walk.

More stairs, but this time leading down toward a small valley. These stairs were made of wood, and not nearly so wide as their marble counterparts.

More stairs to the right, then to the left; then we reached a steep, rough terrain, which we proceeded to climb. At the top, I was looking across a valley about five hundred yards wide. It wasn’t a deep valley, and I could see across to a meandering wall that looked something like a miniature version of the Great Wall.

I felt sure that this part of the temple grounds was not part of the usual tour, and I could not imagine why I was being brought here.

At this point, the monks motioned me to move ahead on my own, so I walked toward the wall. From a distance, I thought I was looking at bundles of wood stacked neatly up to the point of a narrow pagoda-style roof, presumably to keep the wood safe from rain. Overall, I took the wall to be about one hundred feet long and about five feet high. As I got closer still, it looked as though the bundles had been wrapped in very elaborately embroidered brocade, mostly red backgrounds with brightly colored embellishments. The bundles at the top were still vividly colored, but as my eyes moved toward the bottom of the wall, the bundles were more faded and tattered.

I was now directly in front of the wall, and close enough to touch the packages if I wanted to. I didn’t; I couldn’t.

My arms hung limply at my sides, and it felt as if all the air in my lungs had been sucked out of me. I don’t remember for certain if I said anything. If I did, it would have been, “Oh, my God.”

Jim discloses that he was looking at a wall comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of infant bodies, all wrapped in Buddhist ceremonial fabrics, stacked one upon another.  Again, Garrow provides no clues with which to test the veracity of this statement, and its purpose seems designed to re-enforce the Western view that the Chinese kill their unwanted daughter's wholesale, against all verifiable evidence to the contrary.  (For a short overview of different "Blood Libel" accusations in history, read "Fetus Food: Another Urban Legend Busted", eSkeptic, March 21, 2012).

Adoptive families from China will no doubt be interested in knowing what his book says about his work to bring unwanted babies into China's orphanages in order for them to be adopted internationally.  While he is quite outspoken in private conversations and correspondence about the destination of most of the children he has supposedly rescued, the book is almost completely silent about his interactions with China's orphanages.  He does recount one story involving Yoda, his protective intelligence officer, and an orphanage in Chongqing Municipality. Yoda learned that this unnamed orphanage had been accepting infant girls, only to turn around and sell them to sex traders, who would apparently raise the children for 15 years before using them in the sex trade.  One can of course question the financial and logistical logic behind such scheme, but what is interesting to read in Jim's book is how Yoda handled it (remembering that Yoda is all powerful):

"Of course, I heard about it later; and once again, I did not ask for particulars. In one day, the entire orphanage was closed, and all of its people gone. When I say gone, I mean they permanently disappeared. An angry Yoda was like the sword of the Lord, smiting all who were sinners. These people were the worst of sinners, and no one, including me, ever asked what happened to them. The babies and children were saved. That was the only justice to focus on." (p. 82)

Another episode ends similarly, when one of Garrow's infants is kidnapped (I am not making this up) by Chinese gangs.  Three days later, Yoda, using his extensive network of the Chinese underworld, retrieves the child.

"First, [Yoda] brought in the proverbial big guns to squelch any grumblings in the town. Along with the big guns came lots of cash to everyone who might pose a problem, including the parents, both adoptive and birth. Then Yoda put out the word through everyone who at any level had any dealings with our operation.  “If you ever do such a thing again, if you steal one of our children or cause the death of anyone in our organization, you will be dead. Not just you, but everyone in your family and everyone you know.”  Those were not idle words. And to our staff: “If they use a knife on you, use a gun on them. If they use a gun . . .” And the escalation would have no limits.  Nor did Yoda’s controlled and focused rage have any limits. Various newspapers picked up the story, and certainly helped to spread Yoda’s “good word.” (p. 110-111)

As I stated, Garrow mentions no particulars about this orphanage, or any of his other stories.  But being familiar with all of the orphanages in Chongqing, I can attest that none of them have "disappeared".  Orphanages have closed, but we are still in contact with the directors and other employees. 

Garrow does recount a few adoptions into the U.S. (but not Canada), but even these experiences lack the "ring of truth" for those who have personally walked through the paperwork and logistical maze of U.S. Immigration procedures.  As I pointed out above, Garrow seems to maintain that all one needs to do to obtain a Chinese infant is to procure some forged adoption documents and show up at the U.S. border with child in hand.  He seems ignorant of, or completely ignores, the pre-adoption approvals required (I-600, CCAA approvals, etc.) to obtain an entry visa for the child to enter the U.S. 

What struck me as odd, however, was the nearly complete absence of any mention of Jim working with any of China's orphanages.  In fact, a reader of "The Pink Pagoda" would finish with the impression that nearly all of the unwanted children had been adopted inside China.  This impression runs completely contrary to what Jim told me and others in his interviews, in which he proudly boasted of working with four internationally adopting orphanages in Chongqing, from which he claimed that 80% of the children adopted came as a result of his work, and with hundreds of other such orphanages across China.  His website continues to encourage U.S. adoptive families to "ascertain if we have been part of the process of saving your babies in China."  Although in his book he claims that his first "save" was in 2000 (which he also confirmed in other interviews, including mine), he recently responded to a family with children adopted in the late 1990s from Anhui and Jiangxi  Provinces thusly:  "To be quite frank our work encompassed so many of the children rescued in the late 90's and up until recent days that there is a real possibility that your daughters were handled by our folks."  He continued to contradict previous interviews and his own book by stating: "We never placed any children in orphanages after 2000. All the babies from then on with only a few exceptions were adopted internally by barren Chinese couples."  It seems that Jim's story constantly changes depending on whom he is addressing.

The overall issue with Jim's book is that he provides no specific names, places, or events with which to confirm his story, from the "Xinyi" episode at the start, to his nomination for a Noble Peace Prize in 2009 at the end.  In that episode an anonymous Chinese official asks Jim for permission to nominate him for the Peace Prize.  There is no name of this official to research.  Garrow goes on to say he was beaten for the Prize by President Obama, a man Garrow openly despises, and goes so far as to publish his letter of congratulations to the President.  Readers familiar with the nomination process will realize that thousands of members are on the nomination committee, and the winner is nominated by literally thousands of those members.  Nominees are not made known for 50 years, so we can't even determine if his nomination occurred.  However, one can see that even if Garrow's nomination by the nameless Chinese official were actual, Garrow would not have received anywhere near the votes to present any competition for President Obama or the other top contenders.  Thus, chapter 30 of his book, "The Nobel Peace Prize Scandal", in which he writes President Obama and states "We may have lost the Nobel Peace Prize to you, President Obama, but I believe that there is a higher purpose to every event in our lives" (p.149)  is without doubt one of the most brazen and unprovable assertions in the book.  And that is saying a lot.

In the end Garrow's story will be like those of other religious "prophets" to whom God has supposedly spoken:  Outsiders will be able to point out inconsistencies, attack the veracity of the details, and question the validity of the events recounted.  But believers in Jim's story will discount such problems, and insist that since such issues can't be totally disproved, they could be true. Thus, Garrow's story will be viewed as "a story told from a dream" by those who see it skeptically, but as the work of God by those who share Garrow's faith in "saving" children from China.