China’s children (in the media)

It’s impossible to write a blog post that really lives up to this title.  For that you’ll just have to read my dissertation, right?

Just kidding.

As I’ve been learning about foster care, adoption, and child welfare in China these past few years, I’m continually struck by the cultural differences that make everyday stories nearly unintelligible.

Children playing in Yunnan province. Photo by Evan Schneider.

In the past week, however, there’s been a series of stories in the local media which speak to the complexities of life in China in simple, powerful ways.

The first is a China Daily article from our region, Guangxi, about a poor woman who collects trash for a living who illegally adopted a son in 2005, when she found him, abandoned, and likely to due to his cleft palate, on the side of the road.  Because the child is unregistered, because the woman is poor, and because of many other social and structural barriers, the child is not able to attend school and the adoption is neither legal nor seen as favorable in the eyes of elites.  In the article, the woman admits that she hopes that her son will care for her in old age.

What’s important to remember in China is that carrying for one’s parents is a legal obligation, and with minimal retirement and social security payments, and in a society where traditional values such as filial piety are eroding, it’s a very real and valid concern for elderly people like the 75-year old single mother in the article.  In China, children are raised to be interdependent, to seek out opportunities but to also understand that these opportunities stand in direct correlation to their obligations to older generations.

A second look at children’s lives, particularly disabled children, who make up the majority of children in orphanages and foster care today comes from a video series by Jonah Kessel, entitled, “We are Different, We are the Same.”

Kessel’s short videos follow the lives of five disabled people growing up in the PRC, and they’re honest, vivid accounts of the harsh reality of life as a disabled person in China.  At the same time, they’re inspirational: I was especially touched by the accounts of the young woman with brittle bones syndrome, and the little boy with cerebral palsy as I’ve worked closely with children with both of these conditions.  Again, It’s particularly striking (and heartbreaking), that the mother in the video about the young boy with cerebral palsy details her high hopes for her physically and mentally disabled child to grow up, get a job, get married, and be able to take care of her when she grows old.

A young boy with CP plays at a camp for disabled children and their families in Guangxi.
My husband with a group of young boys with brittle bones syndrome at foster home outside Beijing.

Finally, the China Daily and DJ Clark have launched a series of videos about life and improvements to life in rural China.  The first video, an overview of the five stages of rural development put forth by the government in the last 30 years, is particularly insightful for those hoping to gain a basic understanding for the state of rural life in China today, and the subsequent three videos give detailed accounts of villages DJ Clark has visited across China.

If you have a moment to read the article and view some of the videos, let me know your thoughts, what you learned and what you’re struggling to understand.  China’s a complex place, and I’m constantly learning, too!

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