China's Lost Girls (National Geographic)

Saturday, July 21, 2007
This afternoon I watched an episode of National Geographic Explorer, hosted by Lisa Ling (formerly of The View), entitled "China's Lost Girls". It looks at the growing number of abandoned chinese girls being adopted by families overseas.

The documentary (40 minutes) follows a group of American parents-to-be to China where they will meet their new, adopted daughters for the first time and then take them back to the US with them. There was one part of the whole adoption process that really bothers me. Names. Why change the child's name when you adopt them? One of the mother's made a big point of telling one man who questioned her that her first adopted daughter (also Chinese) is very proud of her heritage, taking dance and language classes. Well, if you think that she should be so proud of her Chinese roots, why would you change her Chinese name to "Marissa". Other children interviewed for the documentary all had similar Western names. Not one family (that they had interviewed) had chosen to retain their daughters' original names.

Of more interest, Ling delves more deeply into the reasons behind the large numbers of baby girls who are abadoned, hidden away, or killed in China as well as the huge difference in the number of boys to girls in the country. The reasons are not so simple but somewhat understandable when you look at China's history.

Traditionally, boys have been more highly valued by the Chinese (and also in India). Interviews with rural community leaders shows that this is still a common belief in the countryside. Its believed that boys will stay in the community to carry on the family business or farm, will carry on the family name, and take care of their parents when they're older. Under Mao's regime, the government began "encouraging" (later restricting) families to having only one child. As such, many parents after having a girl, would abandon their daughters, keep them hidden away, or in the worst cases, kill them. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of boys in China.

Speaking to government officials about the growing problem, it becomes apparent that this is going to be a massive problem in, according to one official, 20 or even 10 years. There will be so many men in China of marrying age with so few women for them to marry that he claims it will lead to prostitution, kidnapping, and possibly civil war. It seems though that his estimates of how long it's going to take is apparently misguided. Thousands of woman in China are already being kidnapped and sold as "wives" throughout the various provinces, some being sold as far away as Mongolia. Lisa Ling interviewed one woman who was sold into slavery as a wife but managed to be rescued by a private detective hired by her family. Unfortunately she had to leave the son she had with her "husband" behind as the entire village she was in tried to stop her from leaving with him.

The government is apparently trying to combat the problem by setting up clinics in rural areas, promoting the message that boys and girls are equal. However, as Ling mentions at the end of the documentary, it will difficult to change thousands of years of traditional ways of thinking, especially in the rural areas, and providing someone with a pamphlet of information isn't going to cut it in my opinion.

Captain recommended.


Jocelyn said...

Perfect timing on this post, as I have a good friend heading this week to China to "get" her daughter. You never fail to give me food for thought.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's a fascinating culture, but my god they have some enormous problems.

Wandering Coyote said...

Re. the names: just about every Chinese person I've knows who's come to Canada (and I've known quite a few) has changed their name to something western. It's common. I think it has to do with pronounciation because the languages are so different and we over here in Canada would probably garble the names. Some of it has to do with fitting in, too.

I saw a doc on the CBC a year ago that dealt with the problem of too many men and too few women in places like China and India. It's quite fascinating - but it struck me as a no-brainer, too. What did they think would happen a generation later? The repercussions are awful, but really, they only have themselves to blame.

Jim said...

The comment made about the Chinese girls in Canada all having Western names. Well I have only spent just over two years in China and most girls and lots of the guys do have Western names, and often they are given those names at their Chinese School. This is because it is understood that communication with Westerners in their future lives will be easier for both business and for social. Often girls will change their 'western name' given to them by their teachers to another Western name later after leaving school. I also knew some girls who were even known by their Western name amongst their own Chinese friends. I think that it is great that they can choose a name that they are happy with.

Anonymous said...

I have been to China, and only the people in the countryside dares do that. The people in the city that have girls are happy with them.

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