Thursday, March 17, 2022

“Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” – A Review

It was only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper to offer a guide to Chinese adoptees as to how to search for birth families in China, and Wesley Hagood shows through his presentation that he is up to the task. Having known Wes since 2004 when he requested his daughter’s finding ad from us, I have always been impressed by his doggedness and attention to the smallest of details. Both of these characteristics are on full display in this book.

“Searchingfor Your Chinese Birth Family” is divided into nine chapters and appendixes covering the full range of how a search could be conducted, including chapters on using DNA, hiring searchers to search using the orphanage documentation, and searching using social media inside China. He wisely recommends that searching adoptees begin with a genetic genealogy-based (DNA) search because it is easy, inexpensive, and over time has the greatest probability of success (Wes speaks here from experience. After employing hundreds, if not thousands of hours implementing other methods of searching, the match to his daughter was ultimately made by a simple DNA test). Wes employs a very broad “adoptee-centered” searching approach, meaning that he offers any and all ideas for a single adoptee to utilize, giving little emphasis to effectiveness and value of the various search ideas, nor for the potential impact of those ideas on the community at large. Other than small lists prioritized by what he feels is the order things should be done in, he offers no opinion as to whether an adoptee should employ particular search avenues, or whether these ideas will have a chance of success. In other words, there is very little data behind the ideas.

To use one small example: On the list of potential DNA data bases that an adoptee could utilize he references Zuyuan, a company that briefly came on the scene in 2018 concurrent with Wes writing this book. Zuyuan’s claim to fame was that they were able to match a pre-identified birth family with a pre-identified adoptee using a third-party DNA company. When word spread of this reunion, the adoption community was excited, and people started thinking that this could be a viable path for reunions. It was this excitement that allowed Wes to include Zuyuan on his list of Chinese data bases.

The problem was that as adoptees uploaded their DNA to Zuyuan, Zuyuan then turned around and marketed their DNA to birth families to encourage them to test with Zuyuan, for a fee. Some of these birth families, a few of whom we have met, felt that since they had done a DNA test with Zuyuan that they would not need to test further to get into other, more reliable and far-reaching data bases. Thus, in a very real sense, birth families that tested with Zuyuan (and it probably wasn’t many before the company shut down a short time later) were potentially deprived of any chance of locating their relinquished child. Their DNA may be lost to the adoption search community (Wes did include a footnote to our article strongly discouraging the use of Zuyuan).

The primary issue I see with Wes’s book is that by approaching the subject from an "adoptee-centered" perspective, Wes ignores the overall search community, and how individual steps taken can positively or negatively impact the larger search efforts of all. He fails to point out that not only should adoptees search for themselves, but they should be mindful of how their actions will impact those that follow after. Yes, an adoptee should do everything in their power to search, but only if those actions don’t hurt the chances of others. Those that pushed for Zuyuan, for example, unwittingly damaged the search efforts of the entire community. I would have liked to see more “broad picture” discussion in Wes’s book of the various data bases and other strategies he wrote about. Such a “data driven” appraisal to go alongside his recommendations would have greatly increased the value of the book.

The book is extremely valuable for presenting the huge pile of bricks from which an adoptee can pick and choose to form their search "platform." Most will not use all of the ideas, because as Wes points out each adoptee’s story is unique. Wes correctly emphasizes that before an adoptee does anything, they should gain the information about their particular orphanage. Understanding what was happening in an adoptee’s orphanage is crucial to building a search “platform” on a solid foundation.

Wes’s final chapter, “Our Story – Xinyi Under My Skin,” is a tremendously informative and enjoyable chapter. It should really be read first. It is here that we see the doggedness and determination of the author on full display. I was left wanting more at the end of the chapter. He confirms, for example, that the Xinyi orphanage had a baby-buying program in place, something we confirmed in 2019 when we matched an adoptee from Xinyi with her birth family in Wuchuan. But Wes deprives us from knowing what he learned about how his daughter came to be in the orphanage. The revelation of these reunions is important, I believe, to allow later adoptees to know what their story may have been. (In private correspondence Wes relates that the birth family has no idea how their daughter ended up in the orphanage, which information also informs other searching adoptees).

Wes has compiled an impressive book on searching. I would encourage searching adoptees and their families to use “Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” as a springboard for researching their own search strategies. It is a valuable resource.

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