Chinese orphans as Sino-American diplomats

Last year 4,500 Chinese children were adopted by American families.

Above the political war of words that often marks China-US ties, there has been a quiet explosion in one kind of friendly cross-Pacific exchange.

Compared with a handful a dozen years ago, "last year 4,500 Chinese children were adopted by Americans," says a US official here. Americans account for 80 percent of foreign adoptions in China and adopt more children from China than any other country.

China cut most of its red tape when it passed a new adoption law last April, and is now "a model for the rest to of the world to emulate as a source country for adoptions," the official says.

Anne Thurston, a China scholar who has helped many Americans adopt children here, says Americans are helping to improve the lot of orphans throughout China. When they pay the $3,000 adoption fee to the Chinese orphanage, "that money is translating into better care for the children left behind."

State-run orphanages here were sharply criticized in 1997 after a Chinese doctor and a former Chinese orphan smuggled photos, medical records, and other documents out of China that showed widespread abuses and high mortality rates for Chinese orphans.

Thurston says the problem was not unique to China. "Just over a century ago in the United States, in some cases up to 90 percent of infants sent to foundling homes died."

The charges of abuse in China, echoed throughout the Western media as another sign of China's disregard of basic human rights, triggered a shake-up in orphanages throughout the country. China moved to improve its state homes and make it easier for Chinese and foreigners to adopt, says the US official.

"There's been a struggle in the Chinese leadership over whether or not to allow Chinese children to be sent to the US," he says. Some say that it is an embarrassment for China to resort to adoptions by foreigners.

But in the end, moderates in the Communist Party won out with the argument that the country should use any means, including Western cooperation, to improve the lives of tens of thousands of orphans.

"The entire adoption process here is now very simple and transparent," and its ease is making China a mecca for US couples in search of a child, says the official.

He says the trend is helping China and the US build bridges of understanding despite ideological skirmishes between the Pacific Rim powerhouses.

"Some people say that China is sending 4,500 little ambassadors to the United States every year," he adds.

Thurston says the growing wave of cross-Pacific adoptions "is a win-win-win proposition.

The American parents win a child, the orphan wins a new life, and the Chinese orphanages win with contributions to take better care of their other children."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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