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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

January 31, 2007

Written by C.N.

Adoption and Gender Imbalance in China

Recent news about stricter measures in foreign adoptions is worrying adoption agencies who seek Chinese babies for their Western clientele. Those who are homosexual, obese, older than 50, and worth less than $80,000 are no longer suitable to be adoptive parents according to the new criteria. Such restrictions are criticized in the New York Times (NYT) Op-Ed contributed by Beth Nonte Russell, a therapist and advocate of international adoptions, and former staffer of Indiana Senator Richard Luger (Republican).

She critiques three areas:

1. She blames China’s one-child policy for the abandonment of baby girls.
2. Accuses the Chinese government of placing national pride before the welfare of orphans.
3. Criticizes Chinese data on adoptions and orphanages as “unreliable.”

Embedded in these three points are accusations of callousness, breach of international treaty, and human rights violation.

The issue of abandoned and institutionalized children remains a taboo subject in China, a problem the government does not even acknowledge exists. The impulse to hide it seems to stem partly from embarrassment and partly from fear of revealing the grave human rights abuse the one-child policy has produced; surely, watching a parade of well-off foreigners cart off thousands of babies would make the Chinese authorities understandably uncomfortable.

But the answer is not to stop foreigners from adopting; it is to put an end to their reasons for doing so. My fondest hope, and the hope of thousands of parents who have adopted from China, is for all the orphanages there to close because there are no more abandoned children to put in them. This will only be accomplished when China decides that there is no economic or political justification for the magnitude of suffering that has resulted from the one-child policy. The government must openly acknowledge the problem, in part by publishing verifiable information about the status of its orphaned children, and take real steps to correct it.

Ms. Nonte Russell has a point about the cultural preference for boys in rural China, and the government’s reluctance to expose its problems. However, her understanding of the one-child policy or the causes of child abandonment are questionable.

The one child-policy is not strictly applied to all Chinese citizens; there are provisions that exempt certain individuals if they qualify. Ethnic minorities (e.g., Mongolians, Tibetans, Miao, etc) are basically exempt; even the Han are allowed to have more than one child under certain circumstances.

Given the international ubiquity of child abandonment, poverty rather than policy, seems to be a more logical explanation. Impoverished parents are more likely to abandon baby girls because of the Chinese cultural preference for boys. However distasteful this aspect of Chinese culture, this regrettable truth predates the one-child policy and establishes poverty and cultural bias as a more credible supposition.

What is especially perplexing about Nonte Russell’s piece is that she mentions the gender imbalance crisis in China, but fails see the connection with the reason why fewer foreigners are being allowed to adopt. The acute bride shortage will leave many Chinese men without partners, and that will lead to social upheaval and higher crime rate. Considering these problems, a moratorium on foreign adoptions is not an unreasonable measure in trying to restore gender balance.

There is a hollow ring to American criticism, when convoluted adoption policies in the United States are often cited as the main reason why so many parents seek babies in China. The omission of African-American children from this Op-Ed and from the general discussion on trans-racial adoptions is duly noted, when so many black children are in need of loving families and homes.

Perhaps part of the problem is that some Americans have an attitude of entitlement when it comes to adopting children in China. Adopting a Chinese baby is a privilege, not right. These babies are citizens of the People’s Republic of China, and the government has every right to set the criteria. China’s priority is to its own people, collectively.

Ms. Nonte Russell is also the author of Offspring of a Deathless Soul (2004); a work of fiction that appears to take its cue from an adoption trip to China. Based on the book’s dustcover preview, this work seems to engage in some sort of dream fantasy of an infanticidal Chinese emperor and a messiah-like baby. It appears to be a work that indulges an Orientalist fantasy of rescue and romanticizes the adoption of Chinese girls.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Adoption and Gender Imbalance in China" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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