We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge

A Journey to My Daughter's Birthplace in China

Nancy McCabe

Publication Year: 2011

Even before Nancy McCabe and her daughter, Sophie, left for China, it was clear that, as the mother of an adopted child from China, McCabe would be seeing the country as a tourist while her daughter, who was seeing the place for the first time in her memory, was “going home.” Part travelogue, part memoir, Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge immerses readers in an absorbing and intimate exploration of place and its influence on the meaning of family.


A sequel to Meeting Sophie, which tells McCabe’s story of adopting Sophie as a single woman, Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge picks up a decade later with a much different Sophie—a ten-year-old with braces who wears black nail polish, sneaks eyeliner, wears clothing decorated with skulls, and has mixed feelings about being one of the few non-white children in the little Pennsylvania town where they live. Since she was young, Sophie had felt a closeness to the country of her birth and held it in an idealized light. At ten, she began referring to herself as Asian instead of Asian-American. It was McCabe’s hope that visiting China would “help her become comfortable with both sides of the hyphen, figure out how to be both Chinese and American, together.”


As an adoptive parent of a foreign-born child, McCabe knows that homeland visits are an important rite of passage to help children make sense of the multiple strands of their heritage, create their own hybrid traditions, and find their particular place in the world. Yet McCabe, still reeling from her mother’s recent death, wonders how she can give any part of Sophie back to her homeland. She hopes that Sophie will find affirmation and connection in China, even as she sees firsthand some of the realities of China—overpopulation, pollution, and an oppressive government—but also worries about what that will mean for their relationship.


Throughout their journey on a tour for adopted children, mother and daughter experience China very differently. New tensions and challenges emerge, illuminating how closely intertwined place is with sense of self. As the pair learn to understand each other, they lay the groundwork for visiting Sophie’s orphanage and birth village, life-changing experiences for them both.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.3 KB)
pp. 2-9


pdf iconDownload PDF (57.7 KB)
pp. ix-xii

Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge

pdf iconDownload PDF (14.5 KB)
pp. xiii-xiv

read more

Prologue: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.1 KB)
pp. 1-7

This is not going well. The orphanage director folds his hands on the table before him; his back is so upright it doesn’t touch the chair. His face remains unsmiling, his eyes inscrutable behind sunglasses. He is not here, it turns out, because of his love of children. It is his poor eyesight that has doomed him to this position as director of the Chinese social welfare institute where my daughter once lived...

read more

Chapter One: Ten Days Earlier

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.6 KB)
pp. 8-20

When we board a plane for China carrying that picture of the Man, I know it’s unlikely that we’ll unearth much information about my daughter’s past. In fact, by the time we finally hand our boarding passes over to the agent and head down the tunnel, I’ve almost forgotten why it seemed so important to go back to China, why I saved and prepared for this trip for years...

read more

Chapter Two

pdf iconDownload PDF (126.8 KB)
pp. 21-40

When Sophie was about six, she first heard Iris DeMent’s agnostic anthem, “Let the Mystery Be” on an old tape I was playing in the car: “Everybody keeps wondering what and where they all came from. . .”
“Play that again,” Sophie said from the backseat, so I rewound and replayed.
“Again,” she said. It’s a playful, catchy song, but it surprised me that she kept wanting to hear what was essentially a philosophical examination of religious beliefs about human origins and the afterlife...

read more

Chapter Three: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (131.4 KB)
pp. 41-61

The day before we left for Beijing, Sophie paged through A Day in the Life of China, studying each photo. “He’s eight,” she said incredulously, pointing at a baby standing in a crib, gripping the railing. “This one is four,” she gasped, showing me a tightly swaddled newborn-looking creature...

read more

Chapter Four

pdf iconDownload PDF (96.6 KB)
pp. 62-74

“I miss our house,” Sophie sometimes says while we are in China. “I don’t miss anything else. Just our house. I wish I could move it here and live here.”
I imagine our Victorian house, complete with squirrels and bats and mice, a wooden structure with cracked siding, lifted and dropped down here, dwarfed by the slick high-rises of Beijing, out of place among all the steel...

read more

Chapter Five: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.3 KB)
pp. 75-93

When I first came to China, to adopt Sophie, the trip was a bizarre juxtaposition of packaged tour and life-changing experience. Our group shivered in chilly winds through tedious lectures about emperors and dynasties at the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs. We trudged in the hot sun up the Great Wall and around a tea plantation. Even after we added heavy, fussy...

read more

Chapter Six

pdf iconDownload PDF (106.4 KB)
pp. 94-108

The year before we went to China, high winds ripped a twenty-foot branch from a neighbor’s maple tree and flung it toward the kitchen window just as Sophie was climbing up on the sink to close that window. As the branch cracked like a gunshot and flew toward her, she leapt backward, hitting her head against the counter. The limb crashed to the ground, shattering into a...

read more

Chapter Seven: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (133.3 KB)
pp. 109-131

Our Xi’an guide, Ivy, meets us at the train station and then sets off at a brisk pace, empty-handed, without glancing back to make sure that we’re keeping up. We’re not. One of our duffle bags has a good metal handle and rolls easily. The other has turned out to be a mistake. With only a strap, the bag is impossible to maneuver up and down curbs and around cars, parked...

read more

Chapter Eight: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (133.3 KB)
pp. 132-153

“I have a problem,” I greet our Chengdu guide, Mr. Su. “I left all of my pants in Xi’an.”
This horrible revelation struck me on the plane only minutes ago.Yesterday, I sent two pairs of pants out to be washed, and, scrambling to get ready during an early morning after a late night, I didn’t notice that they had not been...

read more

Chapter Nine: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.0 KB)
pp. 154-167

When Sophie was little, I wasn’t the only one with the occasional impulse to run away. Once when she was six, Sophie announced gravely that it had come time for her to leave home. After lunch the next day, she said, she’d be setting off to live in the woods...

read more

Chapter Ten: October 2008

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.7 KB)
pp. 168-183

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” I’ve recited often to Sophie, at her request. She’s been brought up on Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle as if it were a nursery rhyme, and for some reason, it appeals to her. Maybe because she loses everything. Her beloved stuffed dog, her library books, her favorite earrings, a key down the vent. But things always turn up, and so she likes the...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (80.5 KB)
pp. 184-192

The morning after the orphanage visit, we walk along the tracks at the train station, searching for Platform 2.3, which sounds like something out of Harry Potter. We are continuing to retrace Sophie’s steps, moving through a compacted version of her first few months, though by now those steps are...

Note on Sources

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.4 KB)
pp. 193-194

About the Author, Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (258.1 KB)
pp. 210-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272652
E-ISBN-10: 0826272657
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219428
Print-ISBN-10: 082621942X

Page Count: 209
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1