On a recent visit to China, I asked mothers and fathers if there were any issues between generations in their family about how to raise the grandchild.

Sunset of the Forbidden City, Beijing (northwe...

Sunset of the Forbidden City, Beijing (northwest cornor of the Forbidden City) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I expected to hear about the issues raised by the one-child policy, introduced in 1979, and the pressure on a single child to fulfill all the wishes of the parents and grandparents.

What I heard was rather more practical issues, such as a difference of opinion about whether a child should be so bundled up against the cold as to be sweating.

Since central heat is a new phenomenon, you could understand why a grandmother would overbundle and a parent, used to central heating, would insist a child not be overheated.

Or, the insistence that a child not wear diapers.

In a largely rural setting, the “split-pants” that are still common in China in some areas, are manageable.

Just let a child do their business outdoors or in a small pan you can empty out, holding their conveniently made pants out of the way, and have no diapers to wash.

Grandma, to justify her opinion that the split-pants option is the way to go, even argued that diapers would cause the child to be bow-legged.

Mom and Dad, educated with Western attitudes and information, knew better.

They scoffed at the idea that diapers cause bowleggedness. And, whether they chose paper or cloth diapers, city access to stores and washing machines made their choice possible.

China has changed from a country that, historically, has been about 10% urban.

Between 1950 and 1965, they added about 3-4% of the population to cities every year.

By 1985, the country was 33% urban. In 2012, it was 52.6% urban.

In 1978, when I first visited, Beijing still largely consisted of one-level cement-block five-family compounds with a single faucet and one or no kitchen.

Before the last Emperor of China was ousted in 1911, no one was allowed to build a home taller than the Forbidden City, where he lived, two stories high.

Now, in 2013, Guangzhou (formerly called Canton) has 44 million inhabitants, Shanghai 28 million and Beijing 20 million.

New York City, to give you some idea of scale, has 8 million people. Los Angeles has almost 4 million. Chicago almost 3 and Houston 2 million inhabitants.

The change from one-story compounds to 100-story skyscrapers for millions of city dwellers in 35 years is why Chinese say their national bird is the crane – the construction crane.

In 1990, recognizing that its one-child policy, implemented in 1979, was forcing a vast increase in abandoned girl babies, China opened up adoptions to foreign parents.

In her 2010 book, Xue Xinran, author of “Message from An Unknown Chinese Mother,” tells of her conversations with Chinese mothers who gave up their daughters for adoption.

Between 1991 and 2005, almost 63,000 Chinese children, largely girls, were adopted by Americans.

Xinran, a Chinese radio journalist who eventually moved to London, has made it her mission to help those adopted girls understand how their mothers felt when they gave them up.

To this end, she has interviewed women all over China to learn the circumstances under which they gave up their daughters.

These interviews form the basis of her book, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother.

She has also founded a non-profit, The Mothers’ Bridge of Love (MBL), to further extend this mission to bridge communication and love between foreign adoptive and Chinese birth parents.

In her book, Xinran tells us the cultural, economic and historic reasons that girl babies have become available for adoption in such large numbers.

Cities yield familiar circumstances, like young women who, raised in a less permissive China trying to feel their way in the new, Westernized society in which they now live, get pregnant by married men and are pressured by family to give up the child.

If a girl, they are not likely to find relatives who will take the baby.

Rural areas have only recently, officially if not in fact, changed their laws about who inherits land. Traditionally, it has only been boys who could inherit.

Thus, the birth of a girl to a rural family spelled economic disaster for the family.

Even though rural families are allowed more than one child, a girl represents more mouths to feed without a commensurate economic value.

Xinran gets women to open up and reveal the hurt and hope they felt when they released their child to an orphanage where they were likely to be adopted by Americans.

If you know someone whose adopted Chinese-born daughter is coming to the age where she is asking why her birth mother gave her up, let her know about this book.

Click on the title to order your own copy of “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother” from amazon.

Note: Some of the descriptions of the treatment of girl babies in rural areas are quite graphic. This is a book for adoptive Moms, and only for their daughters if they have read it and decide it’s appropriate.



Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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