Synopses & Reviews
In the thirty-five years since China instituted its One-Child Policy, 120,000 children—mostly girls—have left China through international adoption, including 85,000 to the United States. It’s generally assumed that this diaspora is the result of China’s approach to population control, but there is also the underlying belief that the majority of adoptees are daughters because the One-Child Policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son. While there is some truth to this, it does not tell the full story—a story with deep personal resonance to Kay Ann Johnson, a China scholar and mother to an adopted Chinese daughter.
Johnson spent years talking with the Chinese parents driven to relinquish their daughters during the brutal birth-planning campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s, and, with China’s Hidden Children, she paints a startlingly different picture. The decision to give up a daughter, she shows, is not a facile one, but one almost always fraught with grief and dictated by fear. Were it not for the constant threat of punishment for breaching the country’s stringent birth-planning policies, most Chinese parents would have raised their daughters despite the cultural preference for sons. With clear understanding and compassion for the families, Johnson describes their desperate efforts to conceal the birth of second or third daughters from the authorities. As the Chinese government cracked down on those caught concealing an out-of-plan child, strategies for surrendering children changed—from arranging adoptions or sending them to live with rural family to secret placement at carefully chosen doorsteps and, finally, abandonment in public places. In the twenty-first century, China’s so-called abandoned children have increasingly become “stolen” children, as declining fertility rates have left the dwindling number of children available for adoption more vulnerable to child trafficking. In addition, government seizures of locally—but illegally—adopted children and children hidden within their birth families mean that even legal adopters have unknowingly adopted children taken from their parents and sent to orphanages.
The image of the “unwanted daughter” remains commonplace in Western conceptions of China. With China’s Hidden Children, Johnson reveals the complex web of love, secrecy, and pain woven in the coerced decision to give one’s child up for adoption and the profound negative impact China’s birth-planning campaigns have on Chinese families.
"An uplifting and beautiful journey that brings out all your emotions." --Michelle Yu, coauthor of China Dolls
"Mei-Ling Hopgood's riveting memoir traces a young woman's journey to understand the forces that shaped her life. Heartwarming and addictive, LUCKY GIRL captures the beauty--and the luck--of finding home." --Danielle Trussoni, author of Falling Through the Earth
"Hopgood has it all: a journalist's brain, a camerawoman's eye, and a storyteller's heart. In LUCKY GIRL, she beautifully weaves the tricky helix of hope and heredity, showing us that fractured families are sometimes the most whole. On every page, Hopgood's unflinching honesty, emotional acuity, and narrative grace ground this intimate story of family ties tattered, torn, and, in unexpected ways, restored."--Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town
Mei-Ling Hopgood "writes with humor and grace about her efforts to understand how biology, chance, choice and love intersect to delineate a life. A wise, moving meditation on the meaning of family, identity and fate." -Kirkus Detroit Metro Times
"A journalist by trade, Hopgood pushes herself to ask tough questions. As she does, shocking family secrets begin to spill forth. . . Brutally honest. . . Although Hopgood's memoir is uniquely her own, multiple perspectives on adoption saturate the book." -Bust magazine Good Housekeeping
"An award-winning writer recounts her experience as one of the first Chinese babies adopted in the West and her surprising trail back to the rural Taiwanese family who gave her away . . . A great book." --Good Housekeeping
"With concise, truth-seeking deftness of a seasoned journalist, Mei-Ling delves into the political, cultural and financial reasoning behind her Chinese birth parents' decision to put her up for adoption. . . Cut with historical detail and touching accounts of Mei-Ling's "real" family, the Hopgoods, Lucky Girl is a refreshingly upbeat take on dealing with the pressures and expectations of family, while remaining true to oneself. Simple, to the point and uncluttered of the everyday minutiae, Mei-Ling Hopgood nails the concept of becoming one's own."--Detroit Metro Times
"Enchanting . . . Hopgood's story entices not because it's joyful but because she is honest, analytical and articulate concerning her ambivalence about and eventual acceptance of both her families and herself." --Louisville Courier-Journal
"A compelling, honest, and very human tale about self-identity and the complex concept of family." -- Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry
In a true story of family ties, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood, one of the first wave of Asian adoptees to arrive in America, comes face to face with her past when her Chinese birth family suddenly requests a reunion after more than two decades.
In 1974, a baby girl from Taiwan arrived in America, the newly adopted child of a loving couple in Michigan. Mei-Ling Hopgood had an all-American upbringing, never really identifying with her Asian roots or harboring a desire to uncover her ancestry. She believed that she was lucky to have escaped a life that was surely one of poverty and misery, to grow up comfortable with her doting parents and brothers.
Then, when she's in her twenties, her birth family comes calling. Not the rural peasants she expected, they are a boisterous, loving, bossy, complicated middle-class family who hound her daily--by phone, fax, and letter, in a language she doesn't understand--until she returns to Taiwan to meet them. As her sisters and parents pull her into their lives, claiming her as one of their own, the devastating secrets that still haunt this family begin to emerge. Spanning cultures and continents, Lucky Girl brings home a tale of joy and regret, hilarity, deep sadness, and great discovery as the author untangles the unlikely strands that formed her destiny.
In a true story of family ties, journalist Hopgood, one of the first wave of Asian adoptees to arrive in America, comes face to face with her past when her Chinese birth family suddenly requests a reunion after more than two decades.
Mei-Ling Hopgood was an all-American girl. She grew up in the Midwest, studied journalism at the University of Missouri, and became a reporter for a Michigan newspaper. Adopted when she was a baby, she was never really curious about her Asian roots. Then one day, when she was in her twenties, her birth family from Taiwan came calling-on the phone, on the computer, by fax-in a language she didn't understand. The Wangs wanted to meet her; they wanted her to return home. But this unexpected reunion has a price, as she uncovers devastating secrets that haunt the Wangs to this day.
Lucky Girl journeys into Chinese culture-its magnificent sights, war-torn history, and sumptuous foods-while revealing the personal suffering wrought by the country's tightly held traditions. Mei-Ling's is a tale of love and loss, frustration, hilarity, deep sadness, and great discovery as she comes to understand the true meaning of family.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, China became the worlds largest supplier of healthy, predominantly female, children for international adoption--a veritable diaspora of 120,000 girls. We in the west have come to believe that this situation was the result of Chinas One-Child Policy, combined with a traditional Chinese cultural disdain for females and for adopting outside family bloodlines. While there is one truth in this account it does not nearly tell the whole story. Kay Ann Johnson should know. For the last twenty-five years she has been one of the few scholars who has done research on child abandonment and local adoption in China itself. She is also the mother of an adopted Chinese daughter. Her book paints a startlingly different picture. For Chinese parents, giving up their daughters is fraught with grief and remorse. Were it not for the punishments and threats of birth planning campaigns, they would have kept and raised the girls they gave birth to, regardless of how many daughters they had. Johnson presents parents stories about why and how they relinquished a second or third daughter in an often desperate effort to hide her birth from authorities to avoid punishment (including the threat of mandatory sterilization). As the Chinese government cracked down and increased its surveillance, the methods of relinquishing one child changed: from adopting-out” a child to a known daughterless family among friends or extended kin, to secret abandonments at carefully chosen doorsteps of likely potential adopters, then finally to outright abandonment in public places. In the 21st century, the so called abandoned” children of China have become stolen” children. Declining fertility rates and increased seizures of illegally, but locally adopted children have made the dwindling numbers of relinquished children more vulnerable to increasing interregional child trafficking for official and unofficial adoption. Ironically, childless Chinese couples no longer can readily fin healthy young children locally to adopt. Ultimately, Johnson argues that birth planning policies and restrictive adoption regulations, including the perverse incentives these policies create, help drive current patterns of child trafficking and make its eradication difficult if not impossible.
About the Author
Kay Ann Johnson is professor of Asian studies and political science at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, where she is also director of the Hampshire College China Exchange Program and the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment. She is the author of several books, including, most recently, Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction: Somebody’s Children
Chapter 2 Relinquishing Daughters—from Customary Adoption to Abandonment
Chapter 3 Adopting Daughters and Hiding Out-of-Plan Children
Chapter 4 From “Unwanted Abandoned Girls” to “Stolen Children”: The Circulation of Out-of-Plan Children in the 2000s
Chapter 5 An Emerging “Traffic in Children”
Chapter 6 Conclusion: The Hidden Human Costs of the One-Child Policy