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   Book Info

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Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China  
Author: Kay Ann Johnson
ISBN: 0963847279
Format: Handover
Publish Date: June, 2005
   Book Review

Book Description
Kay Johnson has done groundbreaking research on abandonment and adoption in China. In Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son, Johnson untangles the complex interactions between these social practices and the government’s population policies. She also documents the many unintended consequences, including the overcrowding of orphanages that led China to begin international adoptions. Those touched by adoption from China want to know why so many healthy infant girls are in Chinese orphanages. This book provides the most thorough answer to date. Johnson’s research overturns stereotypes and challenges the conventional wisdom on abandonment and adoption in modern China. Certainly, as Johnson shows, many Chinese parents feel a great need for a son to carry on the family name and to care for them in their old age. At the same time, the government’s strict population policy puts great pressure on parents to limit births. As a result, some parents are able to obtain a son only by resorting to illegal behavior, such as "overquota" births and female infant abandonment. Yet the Chinese today value daughters more highly than ever before. As many of Johnson’s respondents put it, "A son and a daughter make a family complete." How can these seemingly contradictory trends--the widespread desire for a daughter as well as a son, and the revival of female infant abandonment--be happening in the same place at the same time? Johnson looks at abandonment together with two other practices: population planning and adoption. In doing so, she reveals all three in a new light. Johnson shows us that a rapidly changing culture in late twentieth-century China hastened a positive revaluation of daughters, while new policies limiting births undercut girls’ improving status in the family. Those policies also revived and exacerbated one of the worst aspects of traditional patriarchal practices: the abandonment of female infants. Yet Chinese parents are not literally forced to abandon female infants in order to have a son. While birth-planning enforcement can be coercive, parents who abandon are rarely prosecuted. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Chinese parents informally adopt female foundlings and raise them as their own. Ironically, as Johnson shows, in some places adoptive parents are more likely than abandoning parents to incur fines and discrimination. In addressing all these issues, Johnson brings the skills of a China specialist who has spent over a decade researching her subject. She also brings the concerns of an adoptive parent who hopes that this book might help others find answers to the question, What can we tell our children about why they were abandoned and why they were available for international adoption?

From the Author
Proceeds from Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son support medical care for AIDS orphans in China.

From the Inside Flap
"In this highly illuminating and deeply moving book, Kay Johnson provides an intimate portrait of the complex processes by which, over the past decade, thousands of little Chinese girls have made their way from orphanages in China into adoptive homes overseas. It is a story that plays out on many levels and challenges long-held stereotypes about China. While Johnson documents dramatic improvements in the conditions of Chinese orphanages during the 1990s, she also illuminates the persistent challenges facing families caught between the Chinese state’s policy of one or two children for all and rural Chinese society’s insistent need for sons. Written by the leading scholarly authority on the abandonment and adoption of Chinese children, this groundbreaking study opens up a world of Chinese politics--the politics of children--whose inner dynamics will fascinate, disturb, and ultimately give hope to adoptive parents and scholars alike." --Susan Greenhalgh, Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Irvine, co-author of Population and Power in Post-Deng China (Stanford Univ. Press, 2004), and author of the forthcoming book Science, Modernity, and the Making of China’s One-Child Policy. "The universal and most pressing questions for transracial and transnational adoptees are ‘Why didn’t my first parents keep me?’ and ‘Why couldn’t I grow up in the land of my birth?’ Kay Johnson’s remarkable book documents the reasons why so many children were available for international placement, and it also illuminates the long-hidden story of adoptive parents in China, who take in far more foundlings than are adopted overseas. This is an essential book for parents, professionals, and others interested in international adoption. But above all it is a gift to the children themselves when they are older, for it will help them understand the competing pressures on birth and adoptive parents at a time of tremendous social change in China." --Jane Brown, MSW, creator of Adoption Playshops for Children "I am exceedingly grateful for this volume because--as Amy Klatzkin puts it in her Introduction--it provides not only an historical record for future adult adoptees, but also a history of the present for ‘everyone touched by adoption from China.’ In Kay Johnson’s hands, that would mean just about all of us. Johnson displaces the polarity of prepackaged answers and hopeless confusion surrounding the abandonment and adoption of Chinese children with careful, humane, and nuanced scholarship. Her research connects the everyday work of caring for children to larger political and social processes, and individual kinship decisions to the broader complex of human relations. This book warrants a wide readership, from people who know a child adopted from China to anyone who wants to better understand families and social welfare in contemporary China." --Sara Dorow, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Alberta, and author of When You Were Born in China.

About the Author
Kay Ann Johnson is Professor of Asian Studies and Politics at Hampshire College. She is the author of Women, the Family, and Peasant Revolution in China (University of Chicago Press, 1985) and a co-author of Chinese Village, Socialist State (Yale University Press, 1993). Her teaching and research interests include Chinese society and politics; women, development, and population policy; and comparative family studies; comparative politics of the Third World; and international relations, including American foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy, and policy-making processes. In 1991, Johnson and her father, the well-known economist D. Gale Johnson, traveled to Wuhan, China, to adopt her daughter, LiLi. Johnson lives with her husband, son, and daughter in Amherst, Massachusetts. Amy Klatzkin has been editing books in Chinese studies for more than twenty years. A contributing editor to Adoptive Families magazine, editor of the FCC National Newsletter, and editor of A Passage to the Heart: Writings from Families with Children from China, she helped her daughter, Ying Ying Fry, write Kids Like Me in China.

Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China


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