Xin Yi is a bubbly, active five-year-old girl. Her short black hair and pudgy build bear a striking resemblance to her mother. I watch as she runs around, chasing butterflies, returning periodically to give her mom a hug, then flies off once again. She excels in school and, from all appearances, is a well-adjusted, happy girl.
Xin Yi was adopted in China by her family at two weeks old from the Huadu orphanage north of Guangzhou. Her family's story sheds a light on domestic adoption in China and illustrates the process many Chinese families go through to adopt a child.
The Huadu orphanage is a simple, two-story brick facility hidden behind a thick 10-foot wall next to one of Huadu's busiest streets. The facility currently cares for about 20 children, almost all special needs. They range in age from a few months to 16 years old. This orphanage adopts all its children domestically; it is not part of the international program. According to newspaper finding ads, in 2005 the Huadu orphanage adopted 29 children, 50% of whom were younger than a year old, the balance ranging from one year to 10 years old (for domestic adoptions, finding ads are placed when the child is adopted, not when they are found). There currently is a 12- to 18-month waiting list of families willing to adopt the most desirable children -- healthy baby infants. The orphanage adopts only to residents of Huadu because, according to Ms. Jiang, director of the orphanage, "There are not enough children to satisfy even those families."
That wasn't the case in 2001 when Jiang Lan came to this orphanage in January of that year with her husband and mother. A week before, her husband and his mother had visited the orphanage and surveyed the children available for adoption. As he looked down at an infant girl lying in her crib, she smiled. "This is my daughter," he spoke to his mother.
Jiang Lan and her husband had decided to adopt after having no biological children after three years of marriage. Orphanage directors I have spoken to indicate that nearly half of domestically adopting families are childless. The rest are families that have a grown child.
A week after Jiang Lan's visit with her husband, the orphanage allowed them to take Xin Yi home. "Take your time in deciding," they were told, "and bring her back if she is too much trouble." The orphanage went on to explain that they could keep her for a year before completing the adoption paperwork, a feature of Chinese adoptions that we might find peculiar. Two other families that adopted from a different orphanage confirmed that this was the case with them also, although all three families emphasized that at no time were they interested in taking the orphanage up on their offer to return the child to the orphanage.
Jiang Lan returned with her husband nearly a year later to complete the adoption. They brought with them an approval letter from their town's Family Planning office, stating that they had no other children. They also carried a letter from the town hospital confirming that they were healthy. Most other families also bring letters from their employers or other proof of income, as well as copies of the couple's identification cards. Jiang Lan and her husband made a 3,500 yuan ($425) "donation" to the Huadu orphanage, an amount in line with the orphanage's current 3,000 to 5,000 yuan fee.
Xin Yi does not know of her beginnings. We talk about the adoption only when she is out of hearing, and quickly shift topics when Xin Yi returns. Jiang Lan indicates that she will tell her "one day" when she is grown up. Additionally, no one outside of the immediate family knows of the adoption. When pressed why, Jiang Lan expressed concern that if Xin Yi's adoption became widely known, she would be picked on and belittled for being an orphan. Other adoptive families expressed concern that neighbors would look down on them for not being able to have biological children.
When asked if she ever thought about her daughter's birthmother, Jiang Lan states that she has no interest in ever meeting her. Other families feel the opposite, and indicated that if their child wanted, they would help one day in searching out the birth family.
Although Western couples often hear that the adoption process for Chinese couples is burdensome, when compared to that undergone by foreign adopting families it is remarkably simple. A trip to the Family Planning office to obtain the authorization letter is required, but costs little if anything. A health certification letter from an area hospital costs around 250 yuan per person. A proof of finances letter is obtained from the employer, but costs nothing. These three items, along with the couple's identification papers, are all that is required to approach the orphanage and begin the adoption process. The adoption process itself requires some simple paperwork, and the payment of the orphanage donation fee. The adoption is then registered with the local Civil Affair's office, which charges around 400 yuan for the "Adoption License", a small red book with a photograph of the the adopting parents and their new child. The simplicity of the domestic adoption process would make most Western families envious.
For the most part, families that adopt inside China keep the adoption a secret from most people outside the immediate family, and some indicate that they will keep it a secret even from their adopted child. All, however, clearly showed an abiding love and devotion to their adopted child, treating them as their own. Jiang Lan, in looking at her daughter running, softly said, "I never think of my daughter as adopted. For me, she is just like my own kid." In this respect, she and her fellow China adopters are just like their Western counterparts.