China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy

Johnson, an adoptive parent, set out to understand the circumstances that produced so many abandoned baby girls in China in the 1980s and 1990s—more than 120,000 of whom were adopted overseas, mostly by people in the United States. She confirms the conventional view that some rural parents abandoned girls under the pressure of China’s coercive one-child policy. But she explodes the myth that Chinese parents do not value girls. It turns out that many illegal second children were kept hidden by their birth families at the risk of being punished by local authorities, and many other babies were informally adopted, also at great risk, by families who already had a boy and wanted a girl. Local officials “confiscated” such children when they found them, swelling orphanage populations and feeding the revenue-producing international adoption market. The recent gradual loosening of the one-child policy does not change the fact that “out of plan” children may be seized from loving birth or foster parents, inflicting enduring pain on both generations. Johnson’s extraordinary book conveys the intense suffering of ordinary people struggling to build families against the will of an implacable bureaucracy.

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