Monday, July 29, 2019

Is Zuyuan a Viable Option for Birth Parent Searching?

This essay was originally published on our subscription blog, but several readers felt it was important enough to be shared publicly.


Imagine you are wanting to set up the perfect database to locate and reunite Chinese birth parents and adoptees. Imagine that the birth parents relinquished their child illegally, and could face potential fines or jail for doing so (at least in their own minds if not in reality). How would you go about doing this? How would you get the birth parents and the adoptees to submit their DNA to your database to be matched? And how would you do it on a large enough scale that matches would be likely?

Several logistical questions arise: What database? Who processes the DNA? Who pays for the database, DNA processing, advertising, etc.? How are matches made? How are the matches communicated? In which country would the database be managed?

These questions are important, especially when it comes to China. As you research, you learn that any DNA database that sets up shop in China by definition must partner with the national Chinese government, and that the government will "oversee" your operations. You learn that most of the current DNA databases don't use the most current DNA technology in order to save money. You learn that Chinese birth families are inherently suspicious, afraid of the government, afraid of being discovered for having relinquished a child. 

So, how do you locate birth families and convince them to participate in your project? How do you convince an adoptee to participate? How much do you charge, and to whom?

Adoptive families have sought a perfect solution to this problem for years. In 2014, we set up DNAConnect.Org as an attempt to provide a solution to the DNA problem. We structured our protocol based on the following assumptions:

1) Privacy -- Since birth parents are terrified of being discovered and "outed" to the Chinese government, it was important that no one in China have access to any information about birth families. Aside from DNAConnect and the adoptee, no one would know that a birth family was searching for a child, no one but the birth family would know when a match was made, and it would be impossible for the police or government to ever know that a birth family had relinquished a child.

2) Cost -- Due to the very real economic differences between China and the West, we felt the burden of the testing should be borne by the adoptive families, not the Chinese. This was a consideration both economically and practically: Chinese families are financially disadvantaged when compared to Western families, and their natural instincts would make it more difficult to convince them to test if there was a significant cost involved. 

3) Transparency -- If a match is made, we felt having an impartial mediator was important to insure that all parties were protected, and that no "qualifying considerations" would impact the decision to introduce the parties to each other.  This is critical especially in cases where Family Planning or kidnapping may have played a role, as these matches represent a potential scandal should word get out. In cases of impropriety, there is a significant incentive for the Chinese government to hide these matches. Thus, transparency is critical.  

These three considerations: Privacy, cost, and transparency are essential to creating a successful data base, and to safeguard the participants.  

Recently, families have been made aware of a new player in China, Zuyuan. Zuyuan is a private enterprise soliciting the DNA from Chinese adoptees, and ostensibly working to recruit birth families to also participate so that matches can be made.  Zuyuan itself is affiliated with a DNA company in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province called "Gene Town." "Gene Town" is apparently a general purpose DNA processing company, with no focus on birth parents or searching (even references to this company are sparse, and we could locate no official company website). It appears that Zuyuan is simply utilizing Gene Town's DNA processing abilities, but has no official ties to the company. In other words, Zuyuan appears to using "Gene Town" to give itself credibility. 

Let us take a look at how Zuyuan has structured its program to see if there is a good probability that it will be successful, success being measured by random matches being made between unknown birth families and adoptees. Any DNA company can take two identified people and process a DNA sample for matching and confirmation. What is needed is for unknown families to be matched "randomly," without prior knowledge of their existence. 

First, Zuyuan has created a website directly targeting Chinese adoptees. Adoptees are presented with two choices: Purchase a DNA kit for $99, or upload already processed DNA from 23andMe, Ancestry, FamilyTree, etc.  There is no apparent cost to uploading.  Thus, Zuyuan's test costs the same as 23andMe and other U.S. companies. Since most adoptive families have already processed their DNA with 23andMe, Ancestry, or similar U. S. data base, we can't imagine that many adoptive families will purchase another kit; rather they will upload their child's DNA to Zuyuan. Thus, little revenue can be expected to originate from the adoptee side of the process.

Things get tricky when one looks at the Chinese side of the company. A Baidu search reveals virtually no web presence for Zuyuan inside China: A Baidu search for "Zuyuan" (祖源寻亲) brings no results for the company on the first fifteen pages of results, although one press story of a Dutch adoptee's search is seen. But results bring no Chinese website, no company information, nothing. It is invisible in China. As a result, no one that we have talked within China had even heard of them. This is a problem, at least in the short term. 

Zuyuan has set up a WeChat account that allows a birth family (if they ever were to come across it) to attempt to order a DNA kit. Clicking on the WeChat icon takes a birth family to a questionaire. Before they can order a DNA kit (supposedly), a family must answer the following questions:

1) Your name (Can use an alias)
2) Who are you looking for? Check a box next to "Daughter, Son, Older Sister, Younger Sister, Older Brother, Younger Sister, Other family member."
3) Where do you live? (Drop down menus for Province, City, etc.)
4) Your birth date (Year, month, day)
5) Your phone number
6) WeChat ID (optional)
7) Do you remember the birth date of the child you gave for adoption (Yes/No)
8) Do you remember the date you gave your child for adoption? (Yes/No)
9) How you gave up your child for adoption? (Sent to orphanage/government, put in public place, gave to "finder", gave to middle person, missing/kidnapped, other.)
10) Do you remember the exact location where you gave up your child for adoption? (Yes/No)
11) Does the given up child have any siblings? (Yes/No)
12) Do you agree to have your contact information shared in public? (Yes/No)
13-15) Upload family photo(s)
16) Tell your search story, including emotions, search experience, etc. (300 words or less)

The first question one should ask is why would Zuyuan want to know a lot of this information, and would a birth family complete this questionnaire if they ever found it? Adoptive families are already reticent to put their child's actual name on their 23andMe profile, for example, out of fear that in the future some insurance company might get the data. Imagine the anxiety a Chinese birth family would feel if asked "How did you give up your child," "what is your phone number?", your birth date, etc. In other words, most birth families will not complete this questionnaire. To get a phone in China one must show a government form of ID. Thus, requiring a family to put their phone number is demanding that they identify themselves to the company and the government.  This is not a small risk, like an insurance company knowing some disease characteristics of one's DNA. This is the government learning that a birth family committed a crime.  

Nevertheless, we asked five birth families inside China to complete the questionnaire with their actual information, including their actual phone numbers.  After taking several minutes each to answer each question (most require answers to continue), when they entered "submit" at the end all five received an error message saying "Your phone could not be verified." We are not sure what this error message means, but again it will cause birth families considerable anxiety to realize that Zuyuan is "verifying" any of the information they entered. 

One must wonder why Zuyuan has most of the questions on the questionnaire.  Given that it will, without a doubt, cause many birth families to not participate, one must wonder what the benefit is to Zuyuan? Why the need for the information on how a child was relinquished? Is it to allow Zuyuan to filter out which families they will or will not assist? Who knows. But these invasive questions are a significant red flag, and would prevent me, who does not even live in China, from encouraging a family to answer them. 

Cost is also a significant disincentive for a birth family to test using Zuyuan. It is expensive (699 yuan) for a birth family to order a DNA kit (assuming the birth family ever was made aware of the company) and Zuyuan encourages birth families to test both birth parents, doubling the fee. Zuyuan did admit to us that if desired only one birth parent needs to be tested, but the default option is to encourage both to test. This also betrays a "profitability" incentive on the part of Zuyuan. Combined with the need to have the birth family complete a questionnaire that asks questions and demands information that could jeopardize the privacy and security of the birth family themselves, several large and significant hurdles to participation by birth parents appear.  

But Jamie, one of the "founders" of Zuyuan, and probably an employee of "Gene Town", also creates issues. While in China Lan was contacted by Jamie through WeChat (it is unknown how he got Lan's WeChat ID, but probably from one of the many search articles that have been published). At first, he simply asked for us to send him the DNA results of one of the birth mothers we had tested. Lan asked him why he needed it, and he answered that he worked for Zuyuan. He indicated he was working with the Chinese government on a big DNA data base to help with the search. When Lan didn't answer his messages immediately, he became aggressive, sending Lan the "new rules" concerning DNA collection inside China, telling Lan she was breaking the law, etc., etc.  He asked if she worked for DNAConnect, again insisting that our work was illegal. These messages came through non-stop for days.  

The birth mother whose DNA Jamie sought was put in touch with Jamie by an adoptive family that contacted her as a result of seeing her search story on Facebook. The adoptive family sent her contact information to Jamie without any permission (we had already collected her DNA). Jamie contacted the birth mother through WeChat. As she tells it the following occurred:

"[Jamie] sent a request to add me. He said he could help me find my daughter. If anyone says they can help me, I always add them as a volunteer. He asked me to pay for DNA. I said that I have already done it, and I have done it inside China and abroad. He asked me how I did it in the United States. I said the same way as he told me to. Then he found out on the Internet that my daughter’s information is on your platform. When Jamie asked me, I would tell them that I had entered the DNA in the United States, and no one ever told me that I couldn’t say anything about it. No one besides Jamie told me that it was illegal. I can only say that the government sold my daughter to a foreigner. The government didn't help me find my daughter, ignoring me for three years. When I got in touch with Lan, I found out my daughter was adopted outside China. I am relying on my own for finding my daughter. I have to try whatever method I have. Otherwise, how can I feel at ease? My daughter has been missing for 18 years. I am uncomfortable in my heart. Ah, because of long-term anxiety, my body has been bad, now I can't walk for a long leg. I can't be heavy. I can't be too tired. I have been recuperating my body. Jamie asked me again and again to pay for DNA. I promised I would do it, but I really don't have the money to do it now. I said that I can make money when I am better. If you have money, you must do it. As long as there is a little bit of hope, I will not give up."

Jamie continued pushing this birth mother to pay for a DNA test, even when she told him she had already done one. That is why he hit up Lan asking for the results. 

So, what is the bottom line regarding Zuyuan? Several important points need to be emphasized:

1) If this birth mother had wanted to do some research on Jamie and Zuyuan before spending the money to get tested, there is nothing in Chinese available regarding the company. No website, no media stories, nothing that would give her any confidence that this is a reliable and serious data base. This could change with time, but at this moment Chinese birth families have no way of hearing about Zuyuan, or learning about it. For adoptive families this is a significant concern.

2) Assuming the birth mother decided to go forward, she would have needed to register with Zuyuan to order the DNA kit (ignoring the apparent website issues). The invasive questions in Zuyuan's questionnaire would no doubt give her pause, and make her second guess her decision. Since it is common knowledge that any DNA data base inside China must be overseen by the government, she would question if she wanted to expose herself by giving the circumstances of her child's entrance into the orphanage. Give the government her name? Phone number? Most would opt out at that moment.

3) The fees associated with doing the test provided a significant barrier to this birth mother, as it will no doubt be to most. On am income adjusted basis, the 699 yuan to a Chinese family is the same as $2,510 for a U.S. family (doubled if both parents are unnecessarily tested). Adoptive families must ask themselves how likely it is that a birth family will spend that kind of money. Few will.

4) It seems clear that Jamie is one of the primary sources for the current misinformation regarding DNA collection inside China. The recent "rules" relate to the commercial collection of DNA for profit and study by pharmaceutical companies.  "The licensing framework treats genetic materials as unique resources for the nation’s collective good and places them under stringent state control," write Yongxi Chen and Lingqiao Song in their analysis of the new rules

"This robust state control is mainly grounded on biosecurity considerations and the desire for national competitiveness. Anxiety over bio-piracy was triggered by media coverage of the Anhui incident in 1997. Two occupational epidemiologists affiliated with Harvard University collected blood samples for a genetic project from over 16,000 Chinese peasants in Anhui Province without appropriate informed consent, and were subsequently disciplined by the university. Prominent Chinese scientists, in particular Chinese geneticists, called for the government to undertake actions to protect the nation’s genetic resources against foreign exploitation. The enactment of the Interim Measures was a prompt response."  

I wrote Lingqiao Song, asking her how the new rules would apply to adoptive families testing birth families inside China: "Does the regulations of China outlaw the personal collection of DNA from a birth parent and transport of that DNA sample to the U.S. for processing by a non-Chinese DNA lab?" Lingqiao's response was short: "From my understanding, I do not think collection of blood outbound for parentage purpose is under the regulation of the interim ordinance of human genetic resource."

In other words, the "new rules" do not impact, affect, or have anything to do with the private collection and transportation of DNA outside China for birth parent searching.  

But Jamie, who is trying to get into the search market, is telling people, searchers, and adoptive families otherwise in an attempt to scare them into not testing located birth families, but rather have them pay Zuyuan.  However, it is cheaper, insures greater privacy, is more transparent, and presents a much better chance for success to test a birth family through 23andMe or similar, and uploading it to GedMatch. There is, in fact, no obvious benefit for a birth family to test with Zuyuan, and considerable downsides. 

Jamie inflates the relationships he has with other search groups on his webpage. Before today (July 22, 2019), his website asserted that Codis DNA from adoptees would be "transferred to all major Codis DNA databases operated by family member search Volunteer Groups in China." According to Jamie these groups include "Baobeihuajia, Help For Family Reunion, Di'An DNA Reunion and Jiangyin Tracing Volunteers." 

When we asked our friends at "Baby Come Home" (Baobeihuajia), "Help For Family Reunion" and "Jiangyin Tracing Volunteers" if they had ever dealt with Jamie, all three denied any cooperation, had not had DNA from Jamie uploaded to their databases, and were upset that Jamie was associating Zuyuan with their groups. Within four hours of our inquiries, Jamie had removed all mention of their groups on his website. It is unknown what databases Zuyuan utilizes, if any.

I don't know why Zuyuan is marketing so hard to the adoptive community, and spending so little resources gathering DNA from Chinese birth families.  Perhaps it is to try and again fragment the search community with yet another shiny bauble, or perhaps it is to allow the Chinese government to control the search narrative, and prevent "face-losing" stories from coming forth. Perhaps Zuyuan (Jamie) is sincerely wanting to help the search community, but is just loose with his facts and bad at business. But there is no doubt that they are making it easy for adoptees to send in their DNA, but very, very difficult and expensive for birth families. The invasive nature of their registration process, the high cost of processing, and the lack of transparency ensure that few birth families will participate. That should be a big red flag for adoptive families.  

One final comment: We would love for a perfect solution to come about. We spend thousands of hours searching for birth parents, maintaining contact with those that have been located, shipping and processing DNA, etc., all for free. We do not take a single dime for this work. Thus, we would LOVE it if another option presented itself, to allow us to be free from this very real burden. We do it because we want to provide answers and solace to both birth families and adoptees. And we hope that one day it will help us locate our own children's birth families. But another solution would be very, very welcome.  

Monday, April 29, 2019

"The Truth About Intercountry Adoption's Decline"

A recent article by the Chronicle of Social Change entitled "The Truth About Intercountry Adoption’s Decline" attempts to rightfully refute assertions made by the National Council for Adoption (a pro-adoption lobbying group) that the decline in international adoptions is a result of increased regulations imposed by the U.S. State Department. After chronicling episodes that resulted, possibly, in fewer adoptions from countries such as Russia, South Korea and others (I say "possibly" because my area of expertise is not in those countries, and thus I am unable to ascertain the validity of those contentions), the article cursively mentions the declines seen in China, the adoption elephant in the room for the past two decades. 

Susan Jacobs, the article's author, makes the following assertion:

"Domestic adoptions have increased in some countries like China, resulting in a decrease in international adoptions."

Ms. Jacobs is not alone in making this assertion. In fact, the idea that domestic adoption is the reason for the decline in international adoptions has been promoted by "Love Without Boundaries," Holt International, and others. That the decline in international adoptions is a result of an increase in domestic adoptions from the orphanages is the conventional wisdom of the at-large adoption community.

And it is wrong.

What were the reasons for China's substantial decline? When did it start, and why did it happen? We have a lot of data that detail when it started, and we can rule out many reasons proposed by the adoption community and others as to why, including Ms. Jacobs' theory.  

First, let's establish some basic facts regarding China's adoption program. Receiving countries, including the U.S., publish annual adoption figures for all children arriving from foreign countries through adoption. This data show that intercountry adoptions from China peaked in 2005, when 14, 481 children were adopted to the U.S., Canada, Spain, and other countries (Graph has 14,397 due to my ignoring very small country adoptions. I include in the graph the U.S., Australia, Italy, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Canada and France). That number declined to 10,759 in 2006, a decline of 25%, and fell nearly 20% the following year to 8,744 total adoptions. By 2017, only 2,211 total international adoptions were done from China, a decline of 85% from the program's 2005 peak.

To quickly eliminate one possible reason for the decline: Provincial finding ads mirror the declines after 2005, and thus it is known that the reason for the decline in China adoptions is "supply" related, not "demand" related. The increasing wait times, etc., prove that the declines are a result of fewer children being submitted for international adoption, not a result of fewer Western families wanting to adopt, an arrow in the heart of the "State Department is to blame" contingency.  

So, it is clear that something happened between 2005 and 2006 that dramatically altered the number of children coming into China's orphanages and being submitted for international adoption. Is it possible to "zoom in" and see what month the change occurred?

When we compile the findings by month of the top six adopting Provinces in 2005 (Anhui, Chongqing, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi), we can clearly see when the decline began. Looking at submissions for the twenty-four months between January 2005 and December 2006, a noticeable decline began in December 2005, when findings dropped from about 897 findings per month between January and November 2005, to 608 findings per average between December 2005 and December 2006. Findings continued to drop beyond 2006.  What occurred in December 2005 that can explain the nearly 33% drop in one month?

Long-time adoptive families will remember that on November 25, 2005, the Hunan trafficking scandal was revealed inside China and around the world. Prior to that event, families inside China were largely unaware of the international adoption program, and realizing that children were being "sold" to Western families angered many. 

Families can debate the "why" behind the Hunan scandal's impact on international adoption numbers -- Was it birth families avoiding the orphanage, or was it orphanage directors changing their programs, for example -- but there is no question that the scandal forever changed the face of China's program, both in numbers of adoptions, and the gender and health status of those adopted. The Hunan scandal is the dominant force behind the decline in China's adoption rates.

But to return to the original assertion. Has domestic adoption had any significant impact on the international adoption program? Have children been adopted to domestic families, resulting in fewer children being adopted internationally? It depends on how you look at the numbers.

China's National Civil Affairs Bureau compiles the total numbers of children adopted each year from China's orphanages, both internationally and domestically. The following graph (drawn from data published here and here) shows the number of domestic adoptions logged by all of China's orphanages (whether they participate in the international adoption program or not) between the peak in 2005 and 2015.

One can clearly see that domestic adoptions from orphanages have also trended down over the past ten years, but did see a small increase in 2006 and 2009. These increases did not, however, make up for the declines experienced in the international adoptions. Clearly, total adoptions from China have declined, not simply a movement of children from international adoption to domestic adoption on the part of China's orphanages.  

So, if the children were not adopted domestically or internationally, where did they go? 

It seems likely that the collapse in international adoptions after the Hunan scandal resulted in birth families inside China being more cautious when relinquishing a child. In other words, children that could not be parented that may have gone into an internationally adopting orphanage prior to 2005 were now placed in extra-legal domestic adoptions. Although it is doubtful that the agencies quoted above had this in mind when they stated that China's domestic adoption program was growing (it is not), they are still partially correct that more children were being placed informally, rather than allowed to enter an orphanage, even if that orphanage did not participate in international adoptions.  

To summarize: The single greatest reason why China's international program declined following December 2005 was the reporting on the Hunan trafficking scandal. Whether it was a result of increased awareness that domestic families inside China got that orphanages in China were adopting children to Westerners outside China for money, or whether orphanage directors changed their programs is not known with certainty, although orphanage-by-orphanage experience tilts probabilities to the former.  What is known is that orphanages with known incentive programs saw the steepest declines in adoptions, and many of those orphanages continue offering rewards for children to this day. China's domestic adoption program was also negatively impacted.  Thus, a statement that China's international adoption program declined because of an increase in domestic adoption from orphanages is incorrect, unless one attaches "informal" to "domestic adoption" and removes the orphanages from the statement.

For similar articles on China's adoption program including birth parent searching, orphanage stories and analysis, interviews with orphanage insiders, and other topics, sign up for our subscription blog, which contains over 60 indepth articles that will provide you with information on just about any facet of the China adoption experience. 

Friday, February 08, 2019

The Back Stories of Happy Reunions: Digging Out from the Darkness of Searching

The following essay was written by Lan relating her experiences with searching and a recent twin match that was widely publicized.  

“Can you give me a picture of your child that is on the poster? I am searching for it right now.” Recently, an adoptive mom got in touch with me on WeChat, and was hoping I could help a birth mother who came forward and contacted her Chinese guide during her daughter’s search in China. The birth mother is illiterate, and was thus unable to read or write message. As a result, all communication needed to be by voice. I left her a voice message through WeChat, convinced the birth mom to do a DNA test. The adoptive mom invited me into a WeChat search group chat that the adoptive mother had created and with over a hundred adoptive families (a poster group). She was nice and offered her help if I had a poster for my daughter’s birth family search I wanted to broadcast inside China.

“I have been helping my other two daughters’ BF search for decades,” I replied to the adoptive mom, “I know posters won’t help at all with their search.”  I wrote her back thanking her for the offer to help, and continued sending her messages.

I wrote further, “I think after we started to search, we all learned and realized that it’s not that simple as we may have thought in the beginning”. “Yes!” she messaged me back, agreeing.

Back in 2000, my husband was able to interview the finder of our oldest daughter in China with the orphanage director’s assistance. He was able to learn all the details about our daughter’s abandonment at the Civil Affairs Bureau, as he was told by the finder.

In 2003, Brian printed out thousands of posters and packed them in his luggage for his trip to China. We planned to return to our daughter’s orphanage town, and we believed if we put up those posters all over her town, especially at her finding spot, those posters could guide us to her birth family.

We also told the orphanage director about this idea for our daughter’s birth family search, and asked for his advice. He laughed and answered me that the poster was not going to help our daughter’s search.

We found out years later why he may have felt that way. We learned that our daughter’s finding location was false, and her “finders” had not even really found her: Their names were just put into the finding document to keep things simple for our daughter’s adoption paperwork. In other words, literally everything we knew about our daughter’s finding was false. Thus, any poster that we could create would have nothing in it that a birth parent could recognize. This is the situation in most cases.

I have often received posters sent from many adoptive families or adult adoptees in their search. I can imagine how much hope and excitement they have at those posters for their search, because I was one of them when we started our daughter’s search. I really wish the birth family search was as simple as I thought 16 years ago when Brian and I started searching.

Lan, I have a child with anxiety and depression, and a likely missing twin. Should I pay someone to go to the area and plaster the place with posters?  When I went with Xixi, we gave them out in person but we didn’t cover a lot of territory. I believe that finding her sister, if she exists, will help her to heal. I want to find her birth mother and let her know that [Lily] is alive, but honestly, her sister is much more important to [Lily]. I’m just stuck now, and getting up every night at 3 or 4 am with her doesn’t help. This is the reality of having a child who has lived a life of trauma and neglect.”

I have received messages from adoptive parents like the adoptive mother above that messaged me at 2 am in the morning, very frustrated, asking for advice about how to use posters to continue her daughter’s search. I had met this adoptive mother, who I will call “Mary”, online through a search project about two years ago. Days and days I have been working with Mary for the search project, I have often found myself near tears every time I heard her daughter’s story.

“Lily’s” sleep disorder really got Mary’s concerned and she started travelling back to Lily’s orphanage to searching for Lily’s history and birth family years ago to try to find answers for her daughter. She wanted to understand what happened to Lily and why. Then she found there are many kids like Lily. The abuse and neglect in Lily’s orphanage had done a lot of damage. “That makes me feel better--in a weird way. At least I know I’m not crazy for thinking it’s possible.” My friend was honest and told me how she felt during our search together and discovered that her daughter was likely a twin.

I believe many adoptive families might have heard or learned the story of “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite on “GMA” in January 2017.
“...... adoptive mother found a photo of the two girls as babies together, leading her to hire a researcher to look for more information about her daughter's past.” This is what was written in the “breaking news” story of this twin sisters’ reunion. It was just a simple sentence as you read the story, but the fact is the “photo of the two girls as babies together” wasn’t easy to find.

In late 2012, some Tonggu adoptive families contacted Brian and requested to put a search project together to try to find out some answers for their Tonggu children. We spent months working and gathering all the paperwork together for the Tonggu search project.

In March 2013, I finally arrived in Tonggu County in Jiangxi province. After a week, I was able to locate many foster mothers who had foster cared kids for the Tonggu orphanage for many years. Many of those kids had been sent for international adoption, and the foster families had never heard any news from the kids any more. One afternoon, one of those foster mothers, was very sweet and nice, arranged dinner at a private local restaurant gathering of over ten foster mothers to meet me. Everyone was so happy and excited to show me the pictures of the babies that they had foster cared, and eager to find out if any of their kids were on my list to find out any news or information about the kids. It appeared that I was the first person to come to Tonggu to look for them all these years.

That was a very exciting and memorable night for me, to have dinner together with all the foster moms who came, and chat with them. Some of the foster mom had tons of questions and didn’t want to believe I came all the way to Tonggu from the USA. One of the foster moms started to cry, and told me that she had been living in the fear for years because she heard that kids adopted outside China were used to selling for organs.

Back at the hotel later that night, I saw that there was one foster mother on my list that I had not located yet. The next morning, after I had packed and checked out of the hotel, just as my driver turned at the intersection to leave Tonggu , I asked my driver to stop. I wanted to give a last try to locate my missing foster mother. Hours later, after speaking to many local people in the town, I was finally able to find out where this foster mom’s living apartment building was. But no one was at home when we knocked on the door. I waited, and after a few hours finally the foster mom returned home from morning shopping. After my explanation as to why I was there, the foster mom invited me into her apartment and excitedly show me the baby pictures of the kids that she had foster cared from the Tonggu orphanage. My driver was waiting for me in the car, parked near the apartment building. “You have to leave Tonggu! Hurry!”  Suddenly, I got a call from one of the other foster mothers that we met the day before. “….The orphanage people just found out you are meeting with us. They are looking for you all over Tonggu! You really need go, right now!!! It’s not safe for you in Tonggu!” the foster mom cried out on the phone with fear.

I finished taking all the pictures of the baby pictures that the foster mother got out from her little treasure box, writing down all the names of the babies in a list in my research note book. I then rushed out the foster mom’s apartment after hugging the foster mom and warned the foster mom not to mentioned anyone about our visit. I jumped into the taxi, and straightly headed out of Tonggu.

That night, I never thought that this foster mom that I had located and met before I got chased out of Tonggu by the Tonggu orphanage people, would lead to the story of “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite” on YAHOO and Good Housekeeping in December 2016, and on GMA and ABC News in January 2017.

On this Tonggu trip, I also learned that some of the Tonggu adoptees were born in Hunan Province, then sent to Tonggu by arrangement of people in contact with the Tonggu orphanage. I also learned that some of the Tonggu kids were originally from the Tonggu area and foster cared by the foster moms in Tonggu, but then transferred to other orphanages for international adoption. I also learned that some of the Tonggu kids actually had been picked up at the hospital by a Tonggu orphanage employee, and taken straight to the foster mom’s house for foster care soon they were new born, etc.

As soon as I returned home to the States, Brian sent out an email to all the Tonggu adoptive families that he had been in touch with about finding ads, including the adoptive mom who adopted the sister of the twin, and told those Tonggu adoptive families we had foster mom information and baby pictures of their Tonggu daughters if they were interested. But he only got responses from a few Tonggu adoptive families.

Around December 2016, Brian got a finding ad order request from Audrey's mother, and we finally we got a chance to provide this photo of the two girls as babies together being held in the arms of their foster mom, and the orphanage record indicating the two girls were identical twins. Brian had attempted to reach out to the other adoptive family already, since they had also contacted us in the past, but had gotten no response. This time he sent a more targeted email. Again no response (When contact was finally made, it was from a different email, so the early messages may have never been received). Audrey's mother, through some social media sleuthing, was able to track them down and share the news with them. This created this happy reunion with tears and hugs everywhere online later.

After I read the story “Twin Sisters Separated at Birth Reunite on “GMA” on line, I often thought, “What if the foster mom didn’t keep the record of the kids that she foster cared? What if she had not spent her own money to take this picture of her with the twin sisters at the photo store for her memories? What if the adoptive mom had written Brian for the foster mom information back in 2013, or what about if Audrey's mother had never contacted Brian for her daughter’s finding ad? Would this twins sisters' reunion story ever happened?

Less then 10 days after we provided the photos and the foster family information to Audrey's mom, the reunion story was publicized on YAHOO. We had no idea that this story would come out! This story was picked up in China by the Jiangxi Province news in China, and the foster mom got called into a serious meeting and questioned by the orphanage director. The director of the orphanage was getting a lot of pressure from the Civil Affair Department people, questioning him as to how it was possible that the foster mom has let this kind of information out about the twin sisters’ story. “This is serious! What should we do?.....” the foster sister kept messaging me and calling me online at 2 or 3 am for the first two days after the news in China. She begged for my help and advice as to what her mom should to do?

I told the sister her mom had done nothing wrong, and didn’t need to be afraid of the orphanage people. Finally I calmed her down and told her to tell her mom how to answer the orphanage people. About a week later, I got a message back from the foster sister who told me that her mom was fine, besides getting a serious warning from the orphanage.

Mary was exasperated. “Most adoptive parents don’t care and live in a world of blissful ignorance until their hand gets forced,” she messaged me, “I am completely fine with adoptees who make the informed choice not to search. I am not ok with parents preventing the flow of information to their kids due to their own fears, or biases. I see it daily on FB.”
I can feel the pain of my friend, who is struggling everyday with how to find her daughter’s possible twin sister, adopted by another family outside of China. Mary knows that her daughter is too ill to travel back to China in the future to continue the search. But finding the “possible twin sister” probably is her only chance to try to get answers and help her daughter.

I was contacted by one of the Tonggu adoptive families in that search project, and sent a picture that she had received from another adoptive mom who took this picture on her adoption trip. This Tonggu mom was shocked that in the picture a baby girl was being held in the foster mom’s arm, and the baby looked just like her daughter! She assumed it was her daughter!

It was so confusing to her. I later found out this foster mom was from a totally different city and she fostered kids for a different orphanage, far away from Tonggu. The picture wasn’t even from the same year when her daughter was in the orphanage. It was simply impossible for the girl in the photo to be her daughter.

"23andMe has a match!!!! Sisters!" On January 18, 2018, I received an email from this Tonggu adoptive family excitedly telling me that she just found her daughter’s biological sister through DNA testing with 23andMe, as I had suggested her to do before. Well, she was very happy with the results and found out the answer of the mystery of her daughter’s “possible twin sister”: The girl in the photo was indeed her daughter’s biological sister.


We have compiled a listing of children that may be related, but who were probably adopted separately. We are continuously adding to this list as we produce our orphanage data books. If your child appears on this list, please contact us so that we can put you in touch with the other child.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Adoptive Family Reviews of Nanfu Wang's "One Child Nation"

If you have seen the documentary, please consider submitting a review for other adoptive families. We will add new reviews to this page as they come in. 

Average Rating of all Reviews: 9.5

"One Child Nation" Review
by Susan Earl (Utah)

I grew up going to the Sundance Film Festival, but I had stopped going when it got too expensive, too crowded, and too much work. But because of my interest in International Chinese Adoption, one film this year did catch my attention, Nanfu Wang’s “One Child Nation.” My husband and I adopted a little girl from China in 2006 when she was barely one year old. I was so thrilled to see that “One Child Nation” had won the US Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, and would be featured at the Best of the Fest, and I got an e-waitlist number of 57!

I had often felt thankful for China’s One Child Policy because it allowed me to be a mom to the most beautiful and lovely girl in the whole world. She is my Sun and my life revolves around her. I thought I understood China’s One Child Policy. It was a choice that Chinese People made in order to better their lives. I knew that they could choose abortion, they could leave their baby girl in a very safe place, or they could pay a fine if they had another baby. But I guess I forgot that it was China.

I was mostly looking forward to seeing more of China and learning more history, and was pleased to see that Nanfu Wang’s home village was in the Province of Jiangxi, which is also the Province of my daughter’s birth. Nanfu Wang was familiar with the One Child Policy Propaganda; she sang the songs and saw the performances on television. But after moving to the US, and giving birth to her first child, a boy, she wanted to return to her village and learn more about the One Child Policy.

In interviewing village leaders, midwives, and her own family members, she learned about forced abortions and forced sterilizations, babies deserted in markets and covered in flies and maggots, dead fetuses in garbage bags littered throughout garbage dumps, and even extortion by Family Planning Officials. Then in 1992 when international adoption became available in China, Human Traffickers were even introduced. What was happening? This wasn’t how I understood Chinese Adoption. I was feeling as shocked as Nanfu Wang, and even a little uncomfortable thinking I had financially supported this demand for human trafficking. I realized that this was a very personal documentary for Nanfu Wang, and for me, too.

And then Lehi, Utah appeared on the screen, and there was an audible gasp from the audience, but, after all, we were in Utah. And I was watching Brian Stuy and his wife, LongLan, who I had met at several local “Families with Children from China” (FCC) events, along with their 3 daughters who were also adopted from China. I learned more about “Research-China”, the company owned and operated by the Stuy family which was created in response to the Stuys’ daughter’s hope of learning more about her biological family, and then, consequently, being able to offer other parents information about their child’s early story to help “develop a secure sense of self as they grow up.”

In Brian’s interview, he reviewed the many common birth stories that are shared with adoptive families, like, “Your daughter was found at the police station, or at a busy market, or at a beautiful park, or on the front steps of the orphanage.” Wait a minute, that’s my daughter’s Birth Story! You mean it’s not true? I had discovered that the orphanage did lie about my daughter’s vaccination record, after completing her blood work, so I guess they could lie about other things, too.

Nanfu Wang is happy that she has a brother, although her parents had to fight sterilization and then wait 5 years before he could be born legally. Even her brother acknowledges that an empty basket was waiting at his birth, and he would have been placed in it and taken away if he had been born a girl.

When I arrive home from the movie, I wasn’t sure how I would explain it to my daughter. But since all we do is talk, I immediately told her all about it. She didn’t seem too shocked. When I asked if she’d like to find her birth family, she said, “You can do that with DNA.” I asked if she’d like to meet her birth family, and in her pragmatic way, she said “Yes I would meet them, but I wouldn’t love them.”

Nanfu Wang wants to document history because people should not forget their history. The One Child Policy ended in 2015, and Nanfu Wang wants people to remember its terrible impact on China. The truth is that the Chinese People never felt like they any kind of Choice in the matter at all. I know that people can learn from history, but from what I observe in my own Country today, I don’t know that people really like to learn from their past. It’s probably the same way in China.

Reviewer Rating: 8


Mae, a 24-year old adoptee from Zhuzhou, Hunan, wrote this review of the film:
I think that "One Child Nation" does an amazing job at showing the history of the One Child Policy that I had no idea existed and the harsh climate that all Chinese people were living in, but I really wish they had more stories of people like me who have been impacted by this policy. I know they did not have a lot of time and covered so much material, but I think that focusing on the families in China was a really amazing perspective I never knew. This movie shows how China controlled the narrative when it came to all international adoptions. They knew parents like you, and mine, probably did not know Chinese and completely controlled the system and took advantage of that. The whole human trafficking component and abduction of children was such a shock to me and just shows how negatively this law impacted the Chinese people. I hope this movie becomes mainstream because more people need to know the atrocities that China committed.

I am really happy that your organization Research China was featured because I never thought I would be able to find my birth family but maybe now it’s possible. I could really talk about this movie at length, but after seeing the pain these families had when talking about having to give up their baby really made me imagine my own birth family. I knew that they may have not had a choice, but I did not know how dire the situation was for them so I really hope my family can find out that I am a happy and successful person because of them. 
Reviewer Rating: 10


Barbara Osborn wrote this review after seeing the documentary last Friday in Los Angeles:

Johnnie and I saw One Child Nation last night. I loved seeing you and the girls. It was a theater full of Chinese young people. Not adoptive families. Not Chinese adoptees. The film attracted young Chinese people living, at least temporarily, in the US and they are clearly struggling, bravely, with their understanding of the Chinese government and its history over the last 70 years. I would be proud of American young people who engaged in the same kind of internal struggle as openly as the audience did tonight! 

The film reminded me of the very first adoption informational Johnnie and I went to, nearly 15 years ago. The woman leading it said that international adoption was stepping on a moving train, that you stepped on at one station and geopolitical dynamics could take you to another. 

What I didn’t realize at the time is that meant that international adoption was also likely to take us into morally ambiguous territory, not because we were bad or stupid people, but because we couldn’t know everything we would eventually know when we hopped on the train. It’s now one of the first things I tell people who are considering international adoption. International adoption: Morally ambiguous. 

I liked the film a lot (I think more than Johnnie), because it depicted the moral ambiguity of those who forced women to abort or be sterilized, those who “rescued” abandoned children at the side of the road in the 90s which led to a lucrative marketplace by 2000, parents and children like Johnnie and me and Zoee trying to manage the moral obligation of birth and adoptive parenting, and to you two, and the brave research you have done for all these years which has required you to manage your responsibility to Chinese birth parents, and adoptees and their loving adoptive parents in the US and elsewhere.  That is an emotional burden that I’ve often wondered how you carry. I thought the film captured very well that web of obligation that you respectfully navigate each day between birth parents’ yearning, adoptees’ desire for a simple story, and adoptee parents’ fear of losing the dearest thing in their lives. It made me deeply appreciative of your work and your strength. 

Reviewer Rating: 10


The following review was written by a prominent member of the Chinese adoption community, Wendy Mailman:

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the summer of 2009, when I read an article in the Chinese press, which was then translated into English by Research-China.Org, about family planning officials in my daughter’s town of Zhenyuan, Guizhou Province, taking overquota girls from their birth families and placing them in the local orphanage for international adoption. I wasn’t surprised by the article because for years, I was suspicious of my daughter’s finding information, ever since a Chinese friend living in the US, around 2008, had seen my daughter’s finding ad and those of the other 9 children from the same SWI published altogether and told me: “I don’t believe any of these ads, because all 10 ads seemed too similar to be believable.” This led me to purchase the Birth Family Search Analysis from Research-China in 2009, which contained a link to a man posting on a Chinese online forum, complaining about Family Planning in this area taking children from his relatives.

My Chinese friend contacted the man and he got Chinese reporters involved, who interviewed me for a news story. I never thought in a million years that the Chinese censors would allow the Chinese reporters to publish this scandal, blatantly slamming the notion that these children were “abandoned,” and so the only thing I was shocked about when I read the article was that it had actually gotten published in China. But this was an article in Chinese that the vast majority of Western adoptive parents of children from China would never see. Shortly thereafter, an American reporter based in China, Barbara Demick, writing for the LA Times, followed up on the story about Zhenyuan and also reported the same thing happening in a much larger SWI in Hunan province, Shaoyang. This story was in English and in the US press, but since I don’t live on the West Coast where the LA Times is read, no one I knew seemed to know anything about it. But I thought to myself, “The day of reckoning is coming. Someday all this fraud and lies we adoptive parents have been fed about our children's pasts in China are going to come out and it won’t be pretty.” Well, I guess that moment is here with the release of Nanfu Wang’s documentary, “One Child Nation.”

“One Child Nation” is a documentary that I believe every adoptive parent of a child from China and every adult adoptee from China should view, especially if one truly wants to understand what was going on in China at the time that Chinese birth parents relinquished or became separated from their child. The film was amazing. The cinematography was gorgeous; I thought the individual stories were well explained, although I knew about many of them beforehand and hearing all of various stories made you realize how traumatic, destructive and truly inhumane the one child policy was. Everyone interviewed is deeply scarred from this policy and I thought the director did an excellent job of portraying the emotional toll the one child policy took on everyone interviewed, even for people who had to carry out the policy like the village leader, and the healthcare worker who had to perform abortions; you could even see how emotionally devastated they were, decades later, for carrying out the policy. Nanfu was very courageous to make this movie but I also believe everyone who was interviewed and so honest, was equally courageous, including Brian and Lan Stuy who took a lot of flack from some adoptive parents. But for Nanfu to get all these people to talk so openly and honestly with her, was truly amazing. The one big thing I did learn is when Wang was interviewing the trafficker from the Duan family, he admitted he started trafficking children quite early in the adoption program; he stated 1992, which was the year that China implemented a law allowing foreigners to adopt its “orphans.” So the traffickers were there from the very beginning of international adoptions from China. His numbers were much higher than anything I heard before; I believe he mentioned 10,000 children he trafficked. Wang had to repeat this number several times, as if she seemed to not be able to grasp the enormity of his trafficking. Multiply that by other traffickers and you have a significant number of children who were internationally adopted from China, who were trafficked from one area to another.

Wang does an excellent job demonstrating the vast propaganda that went on during the time she grew up in China in the 1980’s and 1990’s, encouraging (or demanding?) families to have just one child, which was so pervasive that it was just part of life and assumed to be normal. It is only after she moves to the West that she can start to understand the propaganda she grew up with. This got me thinking about all the “propaganda” we adoptive parents were fed about the China adoption program throughout the years by our adoption agencies; such as how “transparent” the China program was, how all these children were “abandoned” when there is now overwhelming evidence that this is not necessarily true, etc. So in the end, I wonder who was really brainwashed; the Chinese people about the virtues of the one child policy or the Western adoptive parents about how ethical the China adoption program was.

Reviewer Rating: 10


The following review was submitted by Evan:

One Child Nation is a moving and important film.  The filmmaker takes you through the history and the effects of China’s one-child policy.  The film interviews people who were involved in carrying out the policy, from a midwife that performed thousands of abortions and sterilizations to village officials who abducted babies from families.  Their stories were horrifying.  The film also interviewed families impacted by this strict policy, including the filmmaker’s uncle who left his daughter to die out in the open.  Learning how babies were left to die was heart-breaking.  The film went on to interview someone imprisoned for human trafficking (selling abandoned babies to orphanages). 

I was riveted for 85 minutes, thinking about how this profoundly impacted the Chinese culture and so many families.  Through the work of the organization, Research-China, we learned many of the stories of babies being abandoned and found were simply not true.  Instead, oftentimes planning officials would take babies from the arms of their parents and bring them to an orphanage.  This was gut-wrenching especially as we have adopted a baby from China.  While many of us who adopted may never know the exact circumstances involving our babies, the fact that our babies could have been physically taken out of their home is so sad and incredibly emotional.

This film is an absolute must-see, even for families who are not involved in adoption.

Reviewer Rating: 10