China'S Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, And The Human Costs Of The One-Child Policy

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  • Publish Date: 2016-03-21
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Kay Ann Johnson

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In the thirty-five years since China instituted its One-Child Policy, 120,000 childrenmostly girlshave left China through international adoption, including 85,000 to the United States. Its generally assumed that this diaspora is the result of Chinas approach to population control, but there is also the underlying belief that the majority of adoptees are daughters because the One-Child Policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son. While there is some truth to this, it does not tell the full storya story with deep personal resonance to Kay Ann Johnson, a China scholar and mother to an adopted Chinese daughter.

Johnson spent years talking with the Chinese parents driven to relinquish their daughters during the brutal birth-planning campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s, and, with Chinas Hidden Children, she paints a startlingly different picture. The decision to give up a daughter, she shows, is not a facile one, but one almost always fraught with grief and dictated by fear. Were it not for the constant threat of punishment for breaching the countrys stringent birth-planning policies, most Chinese parents would have raised their daughters despite the cultural preference for sons. With clear understanding and compassion for the families, Johnson describes their desperate efforts to conceal the birth of second or third daughters from the authorities. As the Chinese government cracked down on those caught concealing an out-of-plan child, strategies for surrendering children changedfrom arranging adoptions or sending them to live with rural family to secret placement at carefully chosen doorsteps and, finally, abandonment in public places. In the twenty-first century, Chinas so-called abandoned children have increasingly become stolen children, as declining fertility rates have left the dwindling number of children available for adoption more vulnerable to child trafficking. In addition, government seizures of locallybut illegallyadopted children and children hidden within their birth families mean that even legal adopters have unknowingly adopted children taken from parents and sent to orphanages.

The image of the unwanted daughter remains commonplace in Western conceptions of China. With Chinas Hidden Children, Johnson reveals the complex web of love, secrecy, and pain woven in the coerced decision to give ones child up for adoption and the profound negative impact Chinas birth-planning campaigns have on Chinese families.

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