Johnson spent years talking with the Chinese parents driven to relinquish their daughters during the brutal birth-planning campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s, and, with China s Hidden Children, she paints a startlingly different picture. The decision to give up a daughter, she shows, is not a facile one, but one almost always fraught with grief and dictated by fear. Were it not for the constant threat of punishment for breaching the country s stringent birth-planning policies, most Chinese parents would have raised their daughters despite the cultural preference for sons. With clear understanding and compassion for the families, Johnson describes their desperate efforts to conceal the birth of second or third daughters from the authorities. As the Chinese government cracked down on those caught concealing an out-of-plan child, strategies for surrendering children changed from arranging adoptions or sending them to live with rural family to secret placement at carefully chosen doorsteps and, finally, abandonment in public places. In the twenty-first century, China s so-called abandoned children have increasingly become stolen children, as declining fertility rates have left the dwindling number of children available for adoption more vulnerable to child trafficking. In addition, government seizures of locally but illegally adopted children and children hidden within their birth families mean that even legal adopters have unknowingly adopted children taken from parents and sent to orphanages.
The image of the unwanted daughter remains commonplace in Western conceptions of China. With China s Hidden Children, Johnson reveals the complex web of love, secrecy, and pain woven in the coerced decision to give one s child up for adoption and the profound negative impact China s birth-planning campaigns have on Chinese families."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-22
- Reviewer: Staff
China scholar Johnson (Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son) continues her quest to uncover the hidden reality and long-term consequences of China’s family planning laws, which up until 2016 prohibited more than one child per family. She provides a thorough examination of the effects of the one-child policy on rural families. In telling the stories of parents forced to abandon daughters, Johnson debunks the myth that Chinese families unequivocally favor sons. Despite restrictions on domestic adoption, her research found numerous Chinese families eager to adopt abandoned girls. Johnson shows the various ways families demonstrate resilience and cunning in dealing with “overquota daughters.” For instance, parents forced to abandon their children often tried to arrange for them to be adopted by family members or acquaintances. Johnson also explores the financial incentive created for child seizures by international adoption. She shares one couple’s story of their daughter, “Victory,” who was taken by local officials and later placed with a family overseas. Despite a dry prose style, this book is important for challenging conventional assumptions that international adoption is the only option for “unwanted children.” Johnson’s comprehensive survey humanizes a rural population often overlooked in debates over Chinese family planning policies. (Apr.)