Monday, October 8

The Lost Daughters of China

If you have not read this book, are adopting from China, or know someone who is, I highly recommend reading the book The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans. When we first began our adoption a year ago I read this book and it totally changed the way I viewed the abandonment in China. As a mother of two I just couldn't wrap my mind around how someone could take a baby that grew inside their body for nine months and leave her on a doorstep or in a market. It is such an unnatural thing to do and yet it happens. How could this be? I have also had conversations with people who view Chinese people as cold or indifferent to baby girls. I have heard comments like, "they just throw their babies away" or "they don't want girls they only care about boys". I just knew that it couldn't be that simple... not that black and white... these mothers and babies are human beings. How could this happen on such a large scale? I couldn't imagine my daughter asking me about how she came to be my daughter and answering her with, "Well sweetie, in China they just don't want girls." I realized it was important to have a deep understanding on WHY my daughter was abandoned. That is when I found this book. I found the answer to my question and found a new appreciation and empathy for all Chinese women.

I am going to give some tidbits from the book that help put into perspective the how's and whys so many baby girls are abandoned. I am going to quote most of it right from the book and from notes I took while reading...


Confucian Times

Troubles for females date back to at least Confucius 200 years before Christ. The Han dynasty laid down a family system build on male lineage. Control of land and all family fortune were passed from father to son. A daughters place began at the bottom of the hierarchy. "Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them, they get out of hand"- Confucius

Mencius- Philosopher Mencius who followed Confucius reinforced the system of patriarchy. "Of all the infallible behaviors, the greatest was to produce no male heirs"- Mencius

Despite changes in government and modernization this philosophy has persisted right into the present, especially in the countryside. Although discriminatory and skewed, this philosophy had a practical basis. A modern social security system. Sons take care of parents in old age. A daughter was viewed as another mouth to feed until she married into her husbands household. Once married a woman's name no longer appeared in her own family records. Then the only hope for respect would be to produce a son. If she failed, she could be cast aside and replaced. Husbands "had a right" to take a concubine or divorce if his wife couldn't produce a son. Today a wife is commonly expected to produce a son. If not the husband can turn cold or encourage the death or abandonment of an infant girl. "I want you to remember this, in China a woman is nothing. When she is born she must obey her father. When married she must obey her husband. When widowed, she must obey her son."

Interesting tidbit.... Some rural areas the placenta of a girl baby was buried outside the walls of the home while boys were buried within the house- symbolic of the girl's standing in the family.

Boys were given first pick of food, toys, and resources including medical care.

Found this very interesting... Boys were given a girls name for the first month of life to fool the Gods into thinking the child was not worth taking back. At one month the son received a formal name and was celebrated with a full month feast. No celebration was given to a daughter.


In times of flood, famine, and war girls have suffered even more. If they survived infancy they could be sold and raise as servants or given to the family of her future husband to be groomed in the submissive role from a very young age. "Unwanted daughters were peddled as virtual slaves to unknown families. Once sold their fate was in the hands of the buyer. She had no paper and no rights. Many subject to abuse, prostitution and death." - Adelin Yen

Girls commonly did not live past the birthing room. There is evidence throughout Chinese history of the killing of newborn girls via drowning, strangulation, and neglect. Midwives prepared a box of ashes by the birthing bed. In the event f a female birth her face was pressed into the ashes.

Before Confucianism spread the ancient character for "wife" also meant "equal".

The 1900s
Patriarchy survives today due to deep-rooted ingrained belief and poverty. Infanticide increased due to severe hardship and governments strict population policies.

1949 Communist Era Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong attempted to improve the lives of women. Women were encouraged to "join the ranks of human beings."
"Women hold half the sky."- Mao Zedong Prostitution, child marriage, concubines and selling of brides were outlawed. Wives were given rights they had never had before. Peasant girls began going to school. However, China's "Great Leap Forward" failed. Mao's reforms were short lived. When hard times hit women again paid the price. Famine "the worst in China's history) and government attempts to curb population growth took it's toll. Mao tried reforming China's agricultural system c=forcing peasants out of individual farms and into communal production. This resulted in massive crop failures and starvation from 1958 to 1961. THIRTY MILLION people died in a three year period. This famine escaped Western attention until well after the fact. It was known as "Mao's Secret Famine" This famine ws the least recognized and most severe in recorded human history. Half the casualties were children under ten years of age. Mao tried to hide the disaster from the world until it was too late for help.

During this time the one child policy came to be.

At the end of Mao's era with famine still lingering, population control became a priority for China. In 1972 China's population grew to one billion. Economic development and fear of another famine were reasons to keep population down. In 1980 China's government announced a plan for population reform... the one child policy. China put into place the most drastic birth control policy in the world and enforced then with brutal zeal.

At first, suggestions were made to have later marriages, fewer children, and longer spaces between children. Most families were encouraged to have e just one child but families with pressing need could have two. However, this didn't last long. Soon women needed to have a "birth permission paper" before she became pregnant and take the paperwork to the hospital when she delivered. When couples got married they were required to comply with birth quotas. Those who complied received a Birth Planning Honor Card and preferential treatment to food, housing, health care, and education. Those who held out were hounded and those who didn't were fined, lost jobs, even jailed. Women who became pregnant without permission were confronted and officials decided if necessary to be brought ot abortion clinics. If the child was born the women were required to have an IUD inserted and checked periodically. After the second birth, either the husband or wife was to be sterilized. Forced sterilization, mandatory IUDs, abortions (even at full term) were all commonplace for women. Local government officials were rewarded or punished on how well they met quotas set for their areas. Employers began to supervise female employees watching for signs of pregnancy, sometimes posting menstrual cycles. Many pressured women into having abortions if the timing didn't suit a work schedule.

Because birth control was done at the local level many women would try to outrun the policies by moving away. They were known as "birth gorillas". Women gave birth in primitive conditions with little or no help. The babies in turn were ineligible for a residence registration card- no state benefits... health care, education, etc. Relatives who were left behind were harassed and the women if caught could be forcibly taken in for an abortion- no matter what the length of the pregnancy.

One of every eight women married in the 1070's has suffered the trauma of a second or third trimester abortion.

1983 - 1991 more than 30 million women were forcibly sterilized.

Here is what it all boils down to....
Government's edict to have 1 child and the pressures of her husbands family to produce the much coveted son forced women into desperate acts. Untold mothers who gave birth to girls were faced with an excruciating decision: Keep the daughter and lose the chance to have a son, or sacrifice her and try again.

Adoption was not an option because it counted toward the 1 child quota. If a daughter was born and hidden, listed as deceased, she was then unable to attend school or get medical care. So, desperate parents eventually left girls where they hope she would be found. The Chinese government tried to avoid political embarrassment by ignoring the subject of a huge increase in abandoned babies and directed orphanages to keep numbers under wraps.

In 1988 faced with a resurgence of infanticide and child abandonment the government loosened it's one child policy. Families with one girl "deserved another chance" because sons were so important. The more lenient rules meant more first born daughters got to stay in their families but brought abut a whole new crop of casualties... second born daughters. Thus, many abandoned girls in orphanages have siblings.

Patterns hold true for populations in given areas. Natural ratios for boys and girls are known... 105 boys to 100 girls. But in China, the natural order of things has been badly skewed. Millions of girls who would be expected to be in the population today are MISSING. In 1996 36 there were 36 million more males and climbing. It's not just this generation who are missing. THIRTY MILLION females a full 5% of the population are missing. China is not alone. India's statistics also reflect a gender imbalance. Worldwide 100 million females who should be alive and well are missing.

Where are the lost women of China? Some were killed at birth in the 1930's and 40's and are so not present as elderly women today. Some girls died because they were not given adequate food, clothing or medical care. Some died in the 1958 - 1961 famine due to boys being fed first. Some were victims of abortions after ultrasound or killed at birth. Some eluded official recognition.... "gorilla mothers".

Many observers praise China for it's slowed birthrate and praise the policy but have ignored the human suffering involved. Even many Chinese people support the policies. "The treatment of infant girls is really regrettable but we need this policy for national development and to enhance the wealth and power of the nation." Although infanticide and abandonment are well known in China's cities, urban people tend to blame the problems on the rural people and not government policy.

In 1992 many laws were passed to protect women. Infanticide, abandonment, maltreatment or discrimination of women who gave birth to females was prohibited. Domestic abuse was outlawed and women could get a divorce and equal rights to inherit family property. Even with these new laws the mistreatment of women continues. Working conditions alone can make things difficult for women. If a women is lucky enough to have a job after having a baby they still face 12 hour work days 7 days per week, low pay and little concern for safety conditions.

Working conditions, a women's role in the family, poverty, abduction and sale of girls due to the shortage of women, and the fact that the government has control over women's reproductive lives leaves much to be desired. Would you want to be a woman in China? These problems leave women with very little choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or birth of a female baby. Given the circumstances, taking a baby, wrapping her up and leaving her on the steps of a hospital or in a market is as close to an adoption plan as a Chinese woman can get.

Wow! That was long.

3 comments:

kris said...

This was the very first China adoption book I read (years ago) and was by far one of the best!

Lynn said...

Read it a year ago, nice book report! Did you write all that?

Kevin and Violet said...

I read it after we first decided to adopt from China. It is really good. I, too, recommend it. So much has changed since she visited China and wrote the book, that I hope it really is better (as some claim the longer wait times reflect).
Violet