As China regulates international adoption, attitudes at home make it difficult for domestic adopters

On a cold morning in November 2017, 18-month-old Zhang Liwei was bundled into a car with two guardians, some cookies, a bottle, and a small toy. Arriving at a concrete building in Hefei, Anhui province, orphanage workers pointed Liwei at Sarah, a childless American woman with blonde highlights and glasses, and told him: “Mama.”

“It is such a surreal experience. We were brought together by processes and circumstances that we never could have anticipated,” Sarah recalls of the adoption. “It was tremendously sad and also beautiful.” Found on a sidewalk outside a furniture factory at two weeks old, Liwei had a recently fixed cleft lip, a hole in his palate, severe constipation, and a pathological fear of water. Still, when Sarah left the room that day, she already considered Liwei her son forever.

Statistically speaking, Liwei was one of the lucky ones. In 2016, only around four percent of children in Chinese orphanages and foster homes were adopted, according to a private study by Beijing’s Zhiyan Consultants. From the 1990s to the mid-2000s, when China became the world’s biggest “sender country” for international adoptees, that percentage hovered around 35 percent. However, political pressure both in China and abroad has led to a gradual tightening of cross-border adoptions, culminating in the State Council’s decision in December 2017 to no longer require donations from foreign parents wishing to adopt from China.

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Rebecca Long Okura is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

Ziqi Wang is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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