- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO Months before Karin Evans arrived in China, her future adopted daughter was abandoned one winter day in an open-air market on the Pearl River delta.

Perhaps it was a farmer who found the 3-month-old nestled among the bok choy, oranges and winter melons. Someone called the police, and off the baby went to a nearby orphanage.

Such discoveries are customary in China, where abandoned girls are also found wrapped in newspapers, bundled in rags, in baskets and boxes.

Later that year, Mrs. Evans and her husband, Mark Humbert of Berkeley, Calif., were handed Jiang Xiao Yu whom they renamed Kelly Xiao Yu dressed in a pale green jumper, wearing bright yellow corduroy shoes. She had soft brown hair, "and she was very sleepy," Mrs. Evans relates in her new book about Chinese adoptions, "The Lost Daughters of China."

Although much has already been written about this female diaspora out of China, Mrs. Evans is one of the first writers to plumb its influence on American culture. Unlike the 50,000 Korean children adopted by Americans starting in the 1950s, nearly all of the 20,000 Chinese children who have traversed the Pacific Ocean in the past decade are girls.

Mrs. Evans calculated that 50,000 Americans, the number of people in the adoptive families, are involved in this human drama. One-third of the adopters are single men and women.

Their arrival in this country and subsequent entry into American schools and lives have created a new subculture of Chinese girls. Their parents are a subculture of East-West families who gamely trek their girls to Chinese restaurants, New Year celebrations and oriental novelties like the Autumn Moon Festival.

"The parents are trying to keep a foot in each culture," Mrs. Evans says, "to give their daughters a level of familiarity with it in case the daughter wants to go back."

But the secrets of their past may be lost forever. Soon after the couple adopted Kelly in the fall of 1997, the author, a former Newsweek correspondent in Hong Kong, began to ask questions about this nationwide sisterhood of tiny Chinese females.

The flood of baby girls into Chinese orphanages began in the early 1980s, when the Chinese government ordered that couples would be limited to having one child. Those who do not submit are forced to have abortions, then sterilized.

But beyond that, a combination of factors play into the phenomenon and most stem from the Chinese disdain for women. Indeed, author Amy Tan portrays the Confucian prejudice against women in her book "The Joy Luck Club" and in the movie by the same name.

Mrs. Evans dug up several old Chinese sayings, one of which identifies women as "grass born to be stepped on." Another folk saying calls girls "maggots in the rice" and "it is more profitable to raise geese than girls."

Infanticide was so popular in Chinese history that, she reports, "Some young girls couldn't even be sure of waking up in their own beds in the morning."

According to demographers who estimate birth patterns, more than 30 million girls are "missing" in China. To Mrs. Evans' amazement, all of the Chinese people she was able to contact seemed matter-of-fact about the situation.

"Basically, people see this as a cost of economic growth," she said. "One female scholar told me, 'Infanticide has been here forever.' I couldn't find anyone in China who had raised a voice."

Some voices were raised in August, however, after the Times of London carried a story about infanticide in the village Caidian in the central Hubei province. It told of a mother who, pregnant with her fourth child, was forcibly injected with a saline solution to induce labor and kill the child. However, the baby, a boy, was born healthy, to the surprise of family planning officials who had ordered the injection.

They ordered the father to kill the child, but he refused. Instead, he left the child in an office building, where it was soon found by a doctor. When the couple returned to their home, government officials apprehended the child and drowned him in a rice paddy field in front of his parents. The ensuing public outcry forced the Hubei government to pledge those responsible would be punished, a rarity in such cases.

By the time they reach their teen years, their parents hope, America's Chinese-born girls will be aware of the dark circumstances of their native country and grateful they were given a chance to emigrate. In any event, the girls won't have the option of tracking down their birth mothers as Koreans adopted by Americans can.

Most of the Chinese mothers went out of their way to stay hidden, Mrs. Evans writes, and in at least half of the cases, the decision to abandon the daughter was made by the father. Most of the infants were given up because their parents already had at least one other daughter and wanted a son.

Falls Church resident Christine Katcher, who adopted her 15-month-old daughter, Ani Manon, from China in June, says she and her husband, Daniel, plan to be "very candid" with their daughter as she matures. Ani was found on a street in Mao Ming, a city in southern China.

"To be left there sounds extremely unloving and an enormous rejection, but we figured in that society where it's so difficult to keep these girls, that's the most loving option," Mrs. Katcher said. "Many people abort or practice infanticide. Many others leave their child in a place like a field where they cannot be found.

"It's illegal for them to give up their child. There's no mechanism in China to legally present your child to the authorities to be raised. They'd be arrested. So the understanding is you bring them to a public place: the side of a road, a supermarket, and watch to make sure someone takes them.

"So we'll frame it in a way to say the parents tried to save her life."

Only a small percentage of these abandoned girls make their way to foreigners and, due to complexities of the Chinese bureaucracy, only 5,000 infants are given for adoption annually around the world. Most of the infants (4,349 in 1999) go to U.S. parents. Up to 1 million more are growing up in orphanages.

"The healthiest and strongest are the ones who get adopted," Mrs. Evans says. "So you have this population of others growing up there. We adoptive parents are haunted by the ones we left behind."

Adoptions cost about $15,000 each, and not every parent can return to China for a second child.

"We're thinking about it," said Mrs. Evans, who is 53. "With older parents, it'd be nice [if] she had a sister. She asks us for a sister, as she thinks all babies come from China."

The author devoted much ink to the heartbroken mothers of these "lost daughters." Chances are their offspring will never be able to track them down, and they are unlikely to ever seen them again.

Mrs. Evans herself lost a child in her 20s. Her son died of a cerebral hemorrhage three days after birth.

She has made up a possible scenario of what Kelly's mother may have been like, and each October, during the Chinese Autumn Moon Festival, she plans to tell Kelly what she knows. She has no regrets about taking her daughter from her ancestral country.

"It was the best thing," she said, "I have ever done."

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