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