In September of 2008 I wrote a letter to the Chinese government. In it, I promised to always honor the Chinese culture and to raise any child it chose to put into my care to honor it as well. Two days after we arrived in Beijing to adopt our daughter, Chinese authorities appeared outside our hotel room at midnight. Within a few hours my other kids, my mother, and I were securely behind armed guards in a quarantine hotel, and my husband was locked in a hospital room being treated for an H1N1 flu so mild he hadn’t even realized he was sick. If by “honor,” we mean “show deference to power,” I now had it covered. If we intended to use any of the more common senses of the word, I had a problem, because for what I felt toward China, at that moment and since, has little to do with the kind of honor I’d like to feel toward my daughter’s home country.How do you straddle that divide, between honoring your child's country of birth while being honest about its faults? I'm assuming we want to honor our children's birth country; feeling positive about being Chinese, or Russian, or Haitian, or whatever, is necessary for positive self esteem. But what happens when we hide a country's faults? Or fail to hide a country's faults? It is a balancing act, isn't it?
China has spent millions of dollars over the past years improving its "soft power." That effort has been very successful. It's now very easy, with all we've heard about the efficient subways, the expansive mobile networks, the stable population, and the high-speed trains carrying new workers to new destinations, to forget that behind the “One World One Dream” Olympic façade, China is run by a regime that believes its power still lies in its willingness to oppress when necessary. China's fury over the Nobel committee's choice to honor Liu Xiaobo stems from its fear that in distinguishing Liu for his criticism of Beijing, the world will look behind the curtain at the real costs of the unilateral power that has led to so many gains.
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China has always been a tough sell for the honoring adoptive parent. If China afforded its own people the simplest of human rights—the right to keep and raise their own children under any circumstances—it’s likely that most adoptive parents would travel there only to see the Great Wall. (There may be more to my particular daughter’s story, but the issue remains.) I have long struggled to figure out how to honor China's past without being willfully blind to its present. In Liu Xiaobo, I've found one answer. In awarding the Nobel to Liu, the international community may shame China for its failure to allow dissent, but it honors China as well, for producing a citizen willing to speak boldly in support of what’s right for his country and countrymen, knowing that he’s likely to be called upon to accept and endure the worst of what he protests. It’s a contradiction worthy of China itself.
When Zoe was 4.5, and we returned to China to adopt her baby sister, she was excited to visit Beijing. From my guidebook, she had fixated on the large image of Mao over the entrance to the Forbidden City. As we were waiting to go under that portrait into the city, Zoe was singing, "Mao, Mao, Mao-y, Mao, Mao!" She was excited -- I was worried we'd be arrested for heresy!
As we passed under the portrait, Zoe said, "I think Mao was a good man." I answered, "Some people say he was a good man, but others say he was not." Zoe turns the stink-eye on me as says, emphatically, "Well, I say he's nice!" Alrighty, then!
We've revisited this topic many times since. We've talked about the good things Mao has done, and the bad things that Mao did. I think Zoe has a more balanced view of Mao now. We've talked about the one child policy, and she knows I don't approve of the policy. But we've also tried to separate out our problems with the government and government policies and our love of the Chinese people.
What advice would you give adoptive parents on this topic?