- Transracial Adoption NarrativesProspects and Perspectives
As reflected in child abandonment, the price of birth planning in China has indeed been high in recent years.———Kay Johnson
[T]his is a new ethnic family form . . . it is a story about the making of individual families through international adoption, of the building of cultural bridges between the United States and the People's Republic of China, and of the need to change public attitudes so that persons of Chinese ancestry are recognized as full Americans. [These are] families whose personal biographies intersect with social history.———Richard Tessler, Gail Gamache, and Liming Liu
Adopting children from overseas is an increasingly burgeoning practice in the United States since the 1980s. Between 1985 and 2003 there were 40,496 adoptions of children from China into the United States. In 1997 alone, 13,620 children were adopted internationally by U.S. families; of these, 3,318 were from China. By 2003 this figure had reached 6,859 adoptions from China (Families with Children from China; U.S. State Department).1 In the wake of this increasing phenomenon, narratives addressing the complexities and emotional turbulence of the process of transracial, international adoption have started to appear with increasing frequency. It is clear from reading these accounts that several cross-cultural issues are at stake. Since the majority of parents who adopt across racial lines are white, concerns about differences between white perceptions of the world and the experiences and worldviews of children of color become particularly acute. Among others, issues of identity are thrown [End Page 124] into especially sharp focus: visible differences in appearance between adoptees and their parents; the question of how to cope with racial stereotyping and racial slur; the chasm between an Anglo-American family heritage and an alternative ethnic ancestral heritage and cultural background. Together, these narratives document a unique perspective on transglobal relations and the meeting and connecting of cultures. As Karin Evans, author of the memoir The Lost Daughters of China and an adoptive mother, observes: "It's a phenomenon that spans the gaps of distance, culture, race, language, economics, and heritage. It is a tale of twentieth-century cultures mixing with each other in an unprecedented way" (2000, 3).
The phenomenon of Chinese American adoption in particular has an additional dimension. The story of Chinese adoption to U.S. parents is also a tale of gender woe, as almost all Chinese children adopted by overseas parents are abandoned little girls. Ninety percent of the children in China's orphanages are female (the rest are mainly disabled children). This is not mere coincidence but the tragic consequence of China's one-child policy, which has been in operation since 1980, in combination with China's traditional cultural preference for male offspring. As adoption expert, sociologist, and adoptive mother Kay Johnson puts it:
[G]irls occupy a structurally marginal place in a patrilineal kinship and family system that puts them at far greater risk than boys of being abandoned. Conversely, the central importance and cultural value placed on the role of sons in family and kinship make it highly unlikely that a boy would be abandoned except under dire circumstances.(1996, 79)
Women are not even "allowed" to give birth without the all-important shengyu zheng document, which officially permits a woman to give birth. Without this a woman could be forced to submit to a termination (that have even occurred at full-term) and subsequently to a sterilization or the enforced use of an IUD (this is known as jihua shengyu, or the planned birth policy). It is well documented that population officials and cadres have sometimes used excess force in the implementation of these policies. As pictured in a 1995 report by the group Human Rights in China (HRIC), "Unfair Burdens: The Impact of the Population Control Policies on the Human Rights of Women and Girls," it was found, for instance, that "Persons acting in an official capacity . . . took away and detained women for abortion, sterilization or IUD insertion; beat up those who resisted; [End Page 125] confiscated property and demolished houses" (n.p.).2 Richard Tessler, Gail Gamache, and Liming Liu note: