Monday, June 16, 2014

"China to Ban Names that Signal 'Orphan' Status" -- But When?

In early February 2012, the China Daily announced that the "Ministry of Civil Affairs plans to issue new regulations set of rules to prohibit orphanages from using naming conventions that make it easy for other Chinese speakers to guess that an individual is an orphan—leading to lifelong stigma."  The move was to prevent orphanages from using surnames that indicated a child was from an orphanage since many orphanages habitually utilized surnames that were not regular surnames inside China.  Going forward, the article indicated, surnames would be chosen from a list of 100 Chinese surnames, and that orphanages "will no longer be allowed to name children in their care in ways that signal their parentless status."

Adoptive families anticipated seeing the name change regulation show up in the new referrals coming from China's orphanage in the Summer of 2012, but it seemed that nothing really changed.  A survey of the finding ads from February 2012 forward shows that in all but a few exceptions, China's orphanages gave a collective yawn and continued on as usual.

As we essayed about in June 2011, orphanages have often used creative ways to name their children.  Some of them use location codes, others chronological markers such as a finding year to assign surnames.  Thus, in order to determine which orphanages responded to the Civil Affairs Bureau's call to use common surnames, one must first determine which orphanages used a frequently-changed surname protocol prior to the announcement.  For example, if an orphanage used a different surname every month prior to 2012, it is hard to determine if the surname announcement really changed anything the orphanage was doing.  Thus, for this study we looked for orphanages that had a consistent surname in use prior to 2012, and who changed that surname contemporaneously with the CAB announcement.

The Guangdong, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Anhui, Hubei, Chongqing and Guangxi Provinces provide the vast majority of children for international adoption.  All but two of these Provinces, Anhui and Hubei, include the names of the children submitted for adoption in the orphanage finding ads. 

Guangdong Province had forty-five orphanages that submitted children for international adoption program between 2011 and 2013, and they submitted a collective 936 children for adoption in 2012.  When the surname used in 2011 is compared to the surname used in 2013, one notices that by and large, very few orphanages altered their naming sequences between 2011 (the year prior to the directive being issued)  and 2013 (the year following the announcement).  In fact, of the forty-five total orphanages, only seven saw their assigned surnames change between 2011 and 2013: Dongguan, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xinhui, Yangchun, Zengcheng and Zhongshan.  The remaining thirty-eight orphanages retained the same surname used prior to the announcement. 

As we pointed out in our article "The 'Science' of Orphanage Naming," many orphanages utilize a surname drawn from the city or area where the orphanage resides.  Thus, in Guangdong Province the Leizhou orphanages uses "Lei" as the surname, "Qingcheng" uses "Qingcheng," Suixi "Sui," Xuwen "Xu,", etc.  Of the 45 Guangdong orphanages, thirty-one used all or part of the city or county name as the surname for the children adopted by the orphanage.  One would have expected this pool of orphanages to have responded to the surname directive.

But it becomes more complicated when one realizes that the surnames used are in fact also Chinese surnames in China.  For example, when one compares the orphanage surnames used by the thirty-one orphanages in Guangdong Province that used their city names as part of the surname, fourteen of the surnames appear of the list of "100 Chinese Surnames" the CAB indicated should be used (Dianbai, Heyuan, Jiangcheng, Jiangmen, Leizhou, Longgang, Maoming, Panyu, Pingyuan, Shaoguan, Wuchuan, Xuwen, Yangchun, almost all of whom use the first syllable of the city as the orphanage surname).  Thus, although the surnames utilized by these fourteen orphanages in Guangdong are drawn from a child's orphanage of origin, the names themselves are commonly used as surnames in China, and thus would not betray a child's orphanage status to those inside China that didn't already know of a child's "parentless status."

A larger group of orphanages use surnames that, while not on the list of 100 top Chinese surnames, nevertheless are used as surnames inside China, albeit less commonly.  Fifteen orphanages in Guangdong use surnames mostly reflective of the city name, but which surnames are uncommonly used as surnames in China (Bao'An, Foshan, Gaozhou, Guangning, Huazhou, Huidong, Huiyang, Huizhou, Lianjiang, Maogang, Maonan, Shunde, Yangdong, and Zhanjiang).  Thus, while not technically in compliance with the CAB directive of using names from the "list of 100 Chinese surnames," one could argue that the surnames used by these orphanages do not by definition reveal a child's "parentless status."

So, this leaves the orphanages that use surnames that are not known to be either commonly or uncommonly used as surnames inside China.  This is a fairly small list in Guangdong Province, with only six orphanages falling into this category (Dapu, Qingcheng, Sanshui, Shanwei, Suixi and Xinhui).  One would expect that these orphanages would feel pressure to alter their surname designation, since the surnames utilized by these five orphanages are unknown inside China, and thus would clearly signal an orphanage status.  Of these six, only one orphanage, Xinhui, changed the surname used between 2011 and 2013, changing the surname from "Xin" (Xinhui) to "Zhang," a name found on the list of 100 common Chinese surnames.

Perhaps the lack response by orphanages to the CAB directive was minimal because the surnames used by most of these orphanages weren't the "Guo" (Country), "Dang" (Party) and "Fu" (Orphanage) surnames specifically mentioned in the CAB directive as surnames that should no longer be used.  Perhaps orphanages that utilized these obvious orphanage surnames were more responsive to the CAB directive.

While several Guangdong orphanages had used one of these three "orphanage surnames" in previous years, by 2011 no orphanage in Guangdong was still naming their children by either character.  In Jiangxi Province, Fuzhou has consistently used the "Fu" character as the surname, and Guixi has predominantly used the "Guo" character.  In Hunan Province, Hengdong County has historically used the "Guo" character as its surname, and Zhuzhou has used a variety of surnames, including "Guo."  In Chongqing Municipality, only the Fuling orphanage has consistently used "Fu" for its surname.  Guangxi has several orphanages that have occasionally used these three characters: Mother's Love orphanage which utilizes "Guo" for children from Hepu (which utilizes that surname for all of its children), "Dang" for kids from Yulin City, and "Fu" for the few children from Yizhou (which also uses this surname exclusively).  

By far the most common Province using the three "orphanage surnames" is Henan Province.  Of the twenty-one orphanages that submit files for international adoption, fifteen of them use, consistently or occasionally, "Dang" (most common), "Fu" or "Guo".  Other northern Provinces such as neighboring Shaanxi Province also commonly use these surnames.  

The CAB's directive seems, at a minimum, to clearly state and require that orphanages using these three surnames, which clearly label "children who grow up in orphanages," stop using these characters.  So how many of the twenty-four orphanages have changed their surnames since February 2012?  Only one: Hebi orphanage in Henan Province, which finally changed its surname from "Dang" to common surname "Zhao" in February 2013. The remaining orphanages continue to use "Dang," "Guo," and "Fu" to name their children.  Thus, the CAB directive issues to the orphanages in February 2012 has been almost completely ignored by the orphanages in China that participate in the international adoption program.  Zhang Zhirong, a consultant for Half-the-Sky Foundation, suggested that "This move [by the CAB] shows the government is paying more attention to these children's psychological needs, which helps their development."  While the government may be, the orphanages in this case clearly aren't. 

1 comment:

MJSavageau said...

For our internationally adopted children, I honestly don't see any harm in the orphanages having used surnames that identify our children as "orphan status." That status may be apparent in China, but in other parts of the world where these children are now living, they both have different names and have may even be proud to have a surname that identifies where they are from. We parents of children adopted together from one orphanage even call our girls "cousins" and, for example, "Fang Sisters." Even for children adopted within China today, I'm assuming their names will be changed to match the adoptive family. I do, however, see a problem for those children who grow up in the orphanages and then venture into society as adults only to have that "orphanage" name that identified them as such. Aren't those the children the government should be concerned about? And if so, then they should be doing a lot more than changing their names to protect them from emotional harm.