Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dr. Changfu Chang, Adoption, Trafficking, Corruption, Record-Keeping, Identity

In response to the post of a video reporting on confiscation of children by birth planning authorities in China, a reader commented:
Just saw Dr. Chang Fu Chang this wekend and he strongly argues that this is not happening in China.
As I've mentioned before, I attended a session with Dr. Changfu Chang, documentary filmmaker, earlier this month.  He said something similar in his meeting with us.  He didn't say adoption corruption didn't happen, but he did say it was extremely rare.

He told us that he was an expert on what was going on in China today.  In fact, he said, he knows more about current events in China than anyone else outside of China.  Furthermore, he said, he's been working on video stories about China adoption for decades, so he is also an expert on China adoption. He also told us he's a very modest person!

He said that some (unidentified) people were claiming that as many as 30% of the children in international adoption were trafficked.  However, he could assure us that that was not true and that we simply should "stop worrying about it."  Only a miniscule number have been trafficked, he claimed.  He specifically mentioned the LA Times article about family planning authorities stealing children and the earlier Hunan scandal where a family was convicted on trafficking charges, but did not directly address whether those well-known episodes were part of that very small number he concedes or whether those stories are simply not true.

Dr. Chang did not define trafficking or adoption corruption.  He did say that what we in the West might think of as corruption would not necessarily be thought of as corruption in China.  He was very concerned that we in the West were making moral judgments about trafficking and corruption without considering the context of Chinese culture.

I did not find his denial of wide-spread trafficking credible because he offered no evidence.  I also can't credit that 30% figure since he did not say who claimed 30% of children were trafficked, much less offer evidence in support of it. I felt I knew as much (and as little) about adoption corruption and trafficking in China after his talk as I knew before it.  It was pretty much a wash.

I asked him whether, separate and apart from issues of corruption and trafficking, the records adoptive parents received about their children were accurate.  He said they probably were not accurate.  In China, he said, falsifying documents is not considered a big deal.  He reminded us of the falsified birth certificates of all the under-age gymnasts competing for China in the Olympics.  And he shared an anecdote from his own life; at one time, admission to college in China was based solely on your score on the national test.  He was graduating high school the year the universities started to consider school grades as well as test results.  He said the principal of the school came into his classroom and said that now that grades were also going to be considered, the school was going to change the students' transcripts to show they got all As.  Ends justify the means.

He also said that orphanage directors wouldn't see it as important to record accurate information about where the child actually came from, what their actual birth date was.  Identity, he said, is a Western concept, so Chinese people don't understand how Westerners feel about needing to know their history or background or genetic code.  He discussed the whole Tiger mom thing, and said what was very Chinese about her is that she insisted her children could succeed in music through hard work;  she wasn't looking for an inherent musical talent handed down from biological relatives that needed to be nurtured.  Chinese people won't ask, "Where did my talent come from?" Since orphanage directors don't understand the important of identity, they wouldn't see it as important to record information accurately.  They would falsify documents simply to make it easier for the child to be adopted.  Ends justify the means.

I asked specifically about the red note the orphanage director gave me and claimed to have found with Zoe.  He said these red notes are like fortune cookies, not really Chinese.  There is no tradition in China of abandoning a baby with a red note.  He said if you asked 100 people in China about abandoned babies and red notes, they'd think you were crazy. He's quite sure the orphanages are manufacturing the red notes because they know how much adoptive parents like to have them.  There's nothing malicious in it, they simply want adoptive parents to be happy with their adoption experience.  Ends justify means.

Not surprisingly, the audience at Dr. Chang's talk was pretty morose after all of this.  He was quite anxious that we be happy (very Chinese of him!), and reiterated several times that we shouldn't worry about corruption in China adoption or about falsified records.  Everything done in China was with the best of intentions.  There was nothing "fishy" going on.

Can't say that made me feel any better. How 'bout you?


Mei Ling said...

98% of all statistics are made up. :P

Truly Blessed said...


This just solidifies my thought that the Chinese director of my daughter's SWI tells adoptive parents what they think we want to hear, not necessarily what is the truth.

Reena said...

I also saw Dr. Chang Fu talk this weekend. I find his films informative but the rest not very helpful.

My understanding of Chinese culture, from friends, is that it is considered very bad manners to outright tell someone something that they do not want to hear. In the West we call this lying-- I am not sure what it is called in China, but it is not considered lying.

Of course this kind of flies in the face of the Tiger Mom who reportedly told her children they were not working hard enough etc. Things they did not want to hear.

I have also heard of changing birthdates in China to one that is considered better for *spiritual* reasons. Not sure spiritual is the right word either, but again not really sure what to call it.

Mahmee said...

Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your conversation with Dr. Chang. No, it doesn't really lean toward a comforting end result, I agree. I have to say though, I've never had any illusions about the adoption packet containing accurate information. I figured we were lucky if even 50% of it was accurate. The only thing I feel safe in assuming is that our daughter was born somewhere near the orphanage. Other than that, it's probably a crap shoot. And, I REALLY hope he is correct in what he says about the trafficking situation, I really do.

Anonymous said...

Got the same speach this weekend. Word for word.

Interesting. Some Chinese people in the audience (not adoptive parents) clapped when he denied corruption. Maybe it is a matter of symantics and cultural definitions.

Von said...

I's say it adequately confirms everything I'd been thinking about adoption from China for some time.Adoption can never work for adoptees when there is such a different baseline. China is more open about corruption and the lack of importance of the truth whereas America is much more covert, it really ammounts to the same thing in the end - lack of reliable information for adoptees to help them with knowing who they are.

Anonymous said...

In the early days of international adoption from my daughter's orphanage, almost all of the babies have even-numbered birthdays (even numbers being more lucky than odd). Since probably most of the birthdates are estimated, I feel it is a nice touch. It implies that they wished the babies good fortune or something. I've never been under the illusion that the information I received was necesssarily accurate. Probably some is and some isn't. For the first adoption in 1999, there wasn't much info anyway.

I think it is interesting to consider the different cultural norms regarding identity - that not every culture values knowing one's exact birthdate, etc.

Von said...

In cultures that value accuracy about birthdates when adoptees are brought in it is important for their identity to have what is the truth.

Reena said...

"it is interesting to consider the different cultural norms regarding identity - that not every culture values knowing one's exact birthdate, etc."

But the fact is, Adoptees born in China and adopted to the US are being raised in a culture where the exact birthdate is important and it is the cultural norm to know your exact birthdate and even time of birth. It is something many of us aparents will have to discuss with our kids.

Amy said...

So... in China it is common to falsify records, and most adopted children's records are innaccurate, but he says that I shouldn't worry about trafficking in China because it is miniscule? Yeah, I don't feel any better at all.

Anonymous said...

"But the fact is, Adoptees born in China and adopted to the US are being raised in a culture where the exact birthdate is important and it is the cultural norm to know your exact birthdate and even time of birth. It is something many of us aparents will have to discuss with our kids."

Yet, a child abandoned on the street, less then a week old, as is the case for the wide majority of children adopted from China, do not have a birth certificate attached to them when they are picked up. Which leaves you with a medical estimate of the childs age after birth, and a cultural tendency to do what one can to give a misfortunate child something to bring better fortune in life. Hence, even number birth dates, for example. Yet people want to make a simple gesture of someones heart into somethin sinister.

I am commenting on this because to me at least it is indicative of the relative inability of the western mindset to step out of your space and try to actually understand and relate to what has been shared by ChangFu Chang here.

Personally, being an immigrant who grew up in Mainland China, I find what has been shared here by Malinda on behalf of ChangFu Chang to be both credible and sensible information and insight, from a Chinese cultural perspective.

You certainly do not have to like it, or agree with it, but I do feel that you owe it to the children to understand it in proper context.

Then again, I am probably wasting electrons here in the internet trying to encourage sense and sensibility in a generally volatile community of critics.