In a small coastal town in Guangdong province, a baby was found at a hospital identified only by a birth date -- April 22, 2005 -- written in ballpoint pen on her stomach. She was 3 months old.
Like most abandoned babies in China, she wasn't well: cherry angioma, benign skin tumors made up of blood vessels, were spreading on her groin. Her parents had most likely left her because they feared her medical bills would crush them, a common cause of financial ruin in China. And she was a girl.
By chance, a month later, Mui Koh, an unmarried Guangdong native who teaches English at a vocational school, started to volunteer her time at the orphanage where the baby had been sent. "The baby was crying so hard and I felt so bad for her," says Ms. Koh, now 38 years old. "I was told she cried like this each time she urinated because it caused the (pain) to flare up."
Back home in the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her parents, Ms. Koh couldn't stop thinking about the baby. The next day she went back to the orphanage and took the baby to see a doctor at a public hospital nearby. For 300 yuan (about $44), he removed the tumors.
Every evening after that, Ms. Koh visited the orphanage after work to care for the baby. She called her Portia, after the heroine in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." In Chinese, she was Bao-sha -- bao for treasure and sha for the first character in Shakespeare's Chinese name.
Two months went by and Ms. Koh's love for the baby grew. Then the orphanage warned her that unless she adopted Portia -- now perfectly healthy -- the baby would be adopted by someone else.
Ms. Koh was stumped: "I didn't even know the concept of adoption at the time," she says.
No wonder. While China is known overseas as a place many go to adopt babies, until recently adoption was uncommon among Chinese families themselves. That's partly because of limited financial resources, and partly because the country's Confucian culture emphasizes family and filial piety.
"In China, society operates on blood relationships," says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. "So if families can have their own children, they aren't going to adopt."
But change is afoot. Local adoptions are on the rise, thanks to economic progress and evolving social attitudes. Adoption also provides a way around China's family-planning policies, which aim to limit most urban couples to one child.
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