Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1171
In the introduction to The Lost Daughters of China, Evans presents an overview of the topic of the large number of orphaned Chinese babies that have been adopted by American families. In 1997, Evans herself adopted her daughter, Kelly Xiao Yu, from an orphanage in southern China.
Evans describes the long bureaucratic process that she and her husband Mark went through after they first decided in January 1996 to adopt a Chinese baby. They were both in their forties and had no children. Chinese baby girls were available for adoption because many were abandoned by their parents and ended up in state-run homes.
The process of adopting began at an international adoption agency in San Francisco, where Evans and her husband were informed that the total cost would be around fifteen thousand dollars and that the process would take about a year. In reality, it took nearly two years.
The couple had to apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for permission to adopt a foreign baby. This was the first step in what Evans describes as a sea of paperwork, confusing regulations, and bureaucratic delays. Finally, the U.S.- China liaison, a man she calls Max (which is apparently not his real name), calls to inform Karin and Mark they have a baby waiting for them in China. The baby is a year old and healthy.
Evans describes the trip to China, which she and her husband make in company with several dozen other American adults who are also adopting Chinese babies. They arrive in Guangzhou, on the Pearl River Delta in southern China, eighty miles from Hong Kong. Evans describes the atmosphere of the city, which was hosting a business fair at the time, and notes the presence of twenty McDonalds restaurants. Guangzhou is rapidly growing, and many construction projects are underway.
Finally, along with the other American adopters, Evans and her husband receive their baby, whose name is Jiang Xiao Yu. She is healthy and appears to have been well cared for. The couple rechristens her Kelly Xiao Yu, after Evans’s father, who died shortly before the adoption took place.
Evans discusses the circumstances under which baby Chinese girls are abandoned and some of the cultural history of women in China. All that Evans knew about her new daughter was that she had been found abandoned at a local market when she was about three months old. Her birth parents and place of birth are unknown. This is typical of the Chinese baby girls put up for adoption. Evans points out that Chinese culture has a long history of discrimination in favor of male children. Girls are frequently regarded as just an extra mouth to feed.
This chapter explains China’s population control policy that has resulted in so many baby girls being abandoned or worse. The idea of slowing China’s birthrate took root in the 1970s. China’s population stood at one billion, and its leaders decided that the best way of producing economic growth was to instigate population control. The argument was that fewer people would lead to a rising standard of living and this in turn would produce political stability. In 1980, the policy became official. It was known as the one-child policy.
Families were restricted to one child, and this policy was enforced with some brutality, including forced abortions. Given the cultural preference for male children, baby girls were often abandoned, thus giving the family a chance to produce a son. The population policy created an imbalance in Chinese society: by 1990, five of China’s thirty provinces had 120 boys for every 100 girls.
Evans describes the ten days she and her husband spent with Kelly in Guangzhou before they returned to the United States. They bonded with the baby immediately, and Evans could hardly recall what life had been like without her, so perfect was the match. The new family spent their time sightseeing and wandering the streets of the city. Kelly and the other babies adopted by the American group were blessed in a Buddhist ceremony in a temple. On her arrival in San Francisco, Kelly quickly learned to adapt to her new environment.
Evans’s thoughts turn to the many Chinese babies that are orphaned but not adopted, noting that there may be as many as one million children in institutional care in China. She also comments that children with disabilities or major health problems, as well as older children, have only a slim chance of being adopted. Evans then discusses a television documentary, The Dying Rooms, which paints a grim picture of abuse in China’s orphanages. She examines differing opinions about whether the documentary was an accurate portrayal of conditions in China’s orphanages and points out that many problems are caused simply by poverty and lack of resources rather than intentional neglect.
Evans describes the attempts of Americans who have adopted Chinese daughters to raise their children with an awareness of their Chinese heritage. Because of the large Chinese-American community in San Francisco, it is relatively easy for Evans to give Kelly some exposure to Chinese culture, and they celebrate the Chinese New Year and other occasions in the Chinese calendar. However, for people living in other parts of the country, such exposure may not be so easy. Evans describes some of the organizations that have been created to foster understanding of Chinese culture. She also explores the issue of ethnic identity and speculates about whether as they grow up the Chinese daughters will want to know more about their heritage or will regard themselves as completely American.
Evans speculates about who Kelly’s birth mother might have been and the circumstances that may have led her to give up her daughter. In general, few statistics exist to describe the families who abandon their babies. One study suggested that in half of all cases, the decision was made by the father; in 40 percent of cases, it was a joint decision. Only seldom did the mother make the decision on her own. The typical abandoned child was a healthy newborn girl who had one or more older sisters but no brothers.
Evans considers the issue of whether it may be possible in the future for the adopted daughters from China to learn specific details about their birth families. There may, for example, be an increase in DNA testing, which could provide such information, although for that to occur the political situation in China would have to change.
The author observes that as long as China’s one-child policy continues, there will continue to be thousands more orphans, far more than can ever be adopted, since the pace of the adoption procedure is not likely to increase. But, she points out that the one-child policy is already being officially relaxed in some areas. Also, single children who marry other single children (as will increasingly be the case over the next decade) are allowed by the population policy to have two offspring.