Karin Evans’s The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past (New York, 2000) is an account of the experiences of Evans and her husband as they adopt a baby girl from an orphanage in China. The book interweaves Evans’s personal story with information about Chinese culture and society. Of particular importance is the Chinese population policy that began in the 1980s, which restricted families to one child. This policy was established because China’s leaders believed that the country, with one billion people, was overpopulated and would only be able to achieve economic prosperity with rigidly enforced population control. The result was that thousands of babies, almost all of them girls, were abandoned by their parents and had to be placed in orphanages. Many were adopted by American parents who, like Evans and her husband, had to go through a long bureaucratic process with many delays before they could connect with their new daughters in China.
In addition to providing a moving account of how two American parents bonded with a Chinese baby and brought her back to live in San Francisco, The Lost Daughters of China also raises many issues that Evans discusses in an accessible and interesting way: the challenges of raising a baby who has a different ethnicity than its parents; the place of women in Chinese society, both in history and today; and the origins and consequences of China’s one-child policy.
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...
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