I pulled this 2005 book off my bookshelf and decided I had better take a look at it before it was out of date. Books about China tend to be out of dat...moreI pulled this 2005 book off my bookshelf and decided I had better take a look at it before it was out of date. Books about China tend to be out of date within five years. Well, I was just a bit late. The second edition of this book was published in 2010, claiming to be up to date on China's environmental issues.
Be forewarned: this is a Council on Foreign Relations book so may be wonky and not get into the day to day environmental issues as experienced by your everyday Fu Ping. I am plunging in thinking that I may not get through this. The recent Olympics in Beijing put the Chinese environmental problems on the map for many Americans. And the recent failure to reach any significant international goals or plan of action shows that we have far to go. Hopefully, when this book comes out in its Third Edition in 2015, it will find China and the U.S. willingly working to heal some of the environmental damage that has already been done by both the developing and developed nations. __________________________________________________________________________ http://www.foreignaffairs.com/article... The River Runs Black reviewed by Lucian W. Pye in October 2004 Foreign Affairs
Anyone who has visited China recently knows how serious air pollution is in its major cities, but few people realize that children in these cities inhale the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day just by breathing. Economy has packed this book with an awesome number of such horrifying facts, covering every dimension of China's environmental crisis-the effects of which go well beyond China itself. With its surging economy, China has depleted its own natural resources and is now draining resources from other states as well. Its insatiable demand for wood, for example, has already deforested much of the country-leading to erosion and flooding-and is now threatening the tropical forests of Southeast Asia as well. By 2020, according to predictions, 25 percent of China's arable land will be gone, water needs will be up by 40 percent, waste water will increase by almost 300 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions will be up 150 percent. As Economy documents, Chinese officials are aware of the problem but have responded inadequately-in large part because the demands of continuing economic growth supersede environmental considerations. The only hope, as Economy sees it, is that China's desire to be seen as a modern member of the international community will lead to better environmental protection. And she makes a solid case that the rest of the world, in particular the United States, has a strong interest in encouraging such progress.
NOTE: If you want to read The River Runs Black, I urge you to seek out the Second Edition from 2010. You should also get on your computer and get to know a little bit about the Council on Foreign Relations, a very powerful U.S. think tank since 1921.
The author’s belief that will face you from the beginning of this book to the end is: While economic development and the environment are not mortal enemies, they are not an ideal pairing. It will take some work by NGOs to bring them successfully together.
When I was growing up in the 1950s in Michigan, fall meant the smell of burning leaves. When I was living on Long Island in the 1980s, you could go outside in the fall and smell the smoke from wood stoves. The world has changed and today we know that we cannot continue to add more and more pollution to our environment.
The river that runs black from pollution is the Huai River in eastern China in 1974. With global warming, there is a focus on air pollution worldwide. With our knowledge of the deforestation in the Amazon, we focus on clear cutting timber. With oil spills from tankers and ocean bottom wells, we know that we cannot take our water for granted. The book starts out by recognizing flooding, desertification, water scarcity and dwindling forest resources and how those issues relate to each other. We see that economic development always comes first, trailed at a far distance by environmental concerns.
In The River Runs Black, Elizabeth Economy states: “China’s history suggests a long, deeply entrenched tradition of exploiting the environment for man’s needs, with relatively little sense of the limits of nature’s or man’s capacity to replenish the earth’s resources.” China is singled out because the book is about the Chinese experience, but clearly you could substitute the name of any country in the world. We are making a mess of it.
Did I mention that development is far more important than the environment? OK, I get it! Factories produce jobs and pollution. In 2001 sixteen Chinese cities were among the 20 world cities with the most polluted air. 70% of the dust and smoke in the air in China is from coal burning factories and coal burning household stoves. Population growth is a factor of pollution just as significant as economic growth. The parts of the book that laid out specific environmental issues with examples were the most interesting parts of the book for me. Like, how did the river run black? This was mostly in the first third of the book.
You may smile when you read that Economy identifies the 1972 U.N. international conference on the environment as one of the top three events that sparked Chinese environmental concern. Well, of course, she is an NGO fan. Twenty years later some participants at another U.N. conference saw China as “an inflexible obstructionist.” In 1972 the Chinese position was in opposition “to certain major powers practicing control and plunder under the name of the human environment, and the shifting by those powers of the cost of environment protection onto the shoulders of the developing countries…” At a recent international conference on global warming China continues to take the position that the developed nations (e.g. the U.S.) got us into this problem and it should not be the solved by hindering developing nations like China. (Of course, China has signed the Kyoto Protocol and the U.S. has not.) Economy tiptoes around many difficult and controversial events and issues that stand between the U.S. and China. One must be diplomatic!
Economy is a booster of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). And she even refers to GONGOs (Government Organized NGOs) without even the hint of a smile. Is the Council on Foreign Relations a NOGNO, an arm of the U.S. government? We are into serious alphabet soup here: CCICED, UNCED, MOFTEC. The “E” is usually for environment and the “D” for development. The complications of moving from local issues (polluting factories) to national/regional issues (water conservation, dams) to international issues (ozone depletion, climate change) do run into politics at every level. One sees examples of the Chinese Communist Party [boo, hiss] tolerating activist NGOs when they do have allied interests; it is the balancing act that we see in politics everywhere. Is cooperation between the U.S. and China limited due to strained international relations? Of course.
While multinational businesses are working with Chinese companies and government on the controversial Three Gorges Dam project and the West-East gas pipeline, we are still sparing over the issues of Tibet and the westward expansion of China into resource rich but minority dominated regions. The opening of the west in China is not unlike what happened in the U.S. in the 19th century. The western provinces of China include 56% of the land and 23% of the population.
Having covered the recent history of environmentalism in China, Economy briefly summarizes the experiences of environmental activism in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Asia Pacific. I found this compare and contrast section interesting and readable. So much of the middle part of the book is the alphabet soup and political nuances and tiptoeing; I found it hard to swallow. Part of the problem with the book is its balance of broad coverage with in depth analysis. I am not sure who the target audience was. I am not the environmental geek trying to follow the labyrinthine pathways. I am just the guy interested in learning how environmental issues play out in China. Not so good? Tell me more but spare me the hints of political complexities. Can we save the Earth?
The conclusion of the book suggests that there are three future scenarios, three paths that the Chinese could take into their environmental future: China goes green; inertia sets in – status quo; and an environmental meltdown. The last course sees a downturn of the economy in which development trumps the environment. What path would Economy choose for China? Well, duh. So how could the U.S. do that without being the vile capitalist pigs? Economy gives us two pages (yes, two whole pages) on the role of the U.S.! But maybe this is really a self help book for attendees of international conferences; the book ends with 50 pages of footnotes followed by 10 pages of index.
But the most suggestive section of The River Runs Black is the last 15 pages. They are all blank so you can write your own ending!
**spoiler alert** I paid $1 for China Run from a bargain counter at a Target, not my usual source of reading material. But I was in the process of ado...more**spoiler alert** I paid $1 for China Run from a bargain counter at a Target, not my usual source of reading material. But I was in the process of adopting a little girl from China and this book seemed to be begging to be read. I started it but was soon distracted by the process of the adoption and the rest of life. The adoption completed going on four years ago, I recently pulled the book from its pile and thought I would try again. I am glad I did. There is a good deal of mystery, suspense, travelogue, history, culture, violent death and adventure here.
Whatever you have heard negative about China this novel will confirm! From bribery and other corrupt processes to selling children into the Asian sex trade and selling babies into black market adoptions, it is all here. China PR does not fair well here although as you might suspect there are some good Chinese people who make the story happen. In fact, maybe they are a little too good, several risking and some loosing their lives for the main characters. The kind of characters that you often find in mystery and spy and adventure stories and usually seem unlikely to me but essential to the story.
China Run was probably researched in the late 1990s. And there was a good deal of research done, that is certain. But research about 20th century China has a half-life of about 5 years. Things are changing so rapidly that a book published in 2002 is probably out of date in many ways by 2010. I don't know at what point you refer to a book as historical fiction. It probably isn't ten years but maybe we should use cat years for China and call it 55 years instead of 10.
China Run is nearly nonstop international intrigue with a nine year old playing an unlikely central role, people taking big risks for people they don't know, characters managing to hold onto their luggage throughout their fugitive experience including escaping from a sinking boat. The airlines should only be so good at hanging onto suitcases! But how would the baby have had enough formula powder for the entire book otherwise? I guess this books counts on you willingly suspending disbelief for a lot of its effectiveness. But I would say that it is worth the effort. Anyway, I got my dollar's worth. (less)
Karin Evans is the author of The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past, published in...moreKarin Evans is the author of The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past, published in 2000. Her book was born out of a series of letters she wrote to her daughter while she and her husband were waiting for her adoption to go through. “I was just writing, writing while I was waiting for her.” This is Ms. Evans first book; she has a background as a journalist. She says, “In a way, writing a book was very similar to writing a journalistic feature story – the same kind of research and interviewing, choosing a structure and a way to tell the story, balancing points of view, interpreting facts, and working it all into a graceful whole.”
Must we put the best face forward to accept our role in taking the child of another? Do we put the fates and the angels on our side? What do we do about the many endings that are not so happy? The babies who are left behind?
This baby was found; she was meant to be found – that is the important point here. The story that Kelly's mother had to offer, I realized, was closer than we thought. The best evidence was Kelly herself. Her sweetness and courage, her humor and grace. Her mother left the biggest clue of all in this baby's ready smile. Her mother loved her. If I know nothing else about this woman who gave me the gift of this beautiful child, I know this: When she cared for this baby, she cared wholeheartedly. When she set her down, she set her down gently.
This might be nice positive writing but is it representative of the big picture? I think this book is too neatly wrapped to allow us to feel good about what we are doing. There is too much Red Thread in The Lost Daughters of China for me. The Red Thread is the concept that people are meant for each other, attached to each other by a Red Thread that stretches from one to the other even across the ocean. This baby was meant for me. We were destined to be together.
Sometimes, I’d heard, when he walked through the orphanages, he touched the babies on the heads and whispered to them, “Hey, you will have a home very soon.” . . . Yet I knew that somewhere in the landscape that was fast disappearing from sight I had a Chinese soul mate, a mother who had by her unfathomably sad loss allowed me to realize and almost impossible dream. Where was she and what was she thinking in that moment that her tiny daughter was being lifted high into the air and out of the land of her birth? . . . “We have a saying in China,” he said. “We say that maybe these babies grew in the wrong stomachs, but now they have found the right parents.”
In spite of my own sweet recollections of our coming together with our Chinese daughter Mei Mei, there was a little too much saccharine here in The Lost Daughters, page after page, especially halfway through. The violins were a little too loud. There is plenty of drama in the international adoption of an abandoned girl child. None need be manufactured.
This baby’s mother and possibly her mother had held her, fed her, carried her, for at least three months before she was found [in the market] and taken to the orphanage. Babies have persuasive powers to make us love them and three months is a long time. How unspeakably hard it must have been to walk away. And yet someone had. While I was at home in San Francisco, fretting about bureaucratic logjams, someone in south China was bundling up that beautiful three-month-old for a last trip to the marketplace.
In Chapter Six, Matters of Life and Death, the other side of the coin is displayed: the horror of children dying in orphanages from abuse and neglect.
According to the World Health Organization, around the world 10 million children under five die each year from disease, malnutrition, and violence. If children everywhere have a common enemy, its name is poverty.
The Lost Daughters, while including a good deal of detail of the Evans’ adoption of Kelly, pays considerable attention to the broader issues of adoption in China. The conditions in orphanages are described although there are suggestions that the Chinese government may not be totally forthcoming with accurate information and many orphanages are off limits. The politics of international adoption are also examined.
The resources available to families who have adopted Chinese daughters are a quantum leap more significant in San Francisco where Karin Evans lives than in Lynchburg, Virginia, where I live. But we want to believe that life in Lynchburg is better than the life left behind in Aksu, China. Is it?
Near the conclusion of her book, Karin Evans sums up her wish:
For now, I hope every mother back in China will realize someday what a gift she has given to a family like mine; that she can know that her daughter is greatly loved and well cared for. I hope that changes within China help all its lost girls and all their lost mothers. I hope the orphanages – if they must exist at all – prosper. I hope the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs gets the support it needs to move those dossiers along quickly and that the magical and mysterious matchmaking continues. I hope, in fact, that the floodgates open. I hope the aunties and foster parents in China are numerous and good-hearted. I hope every lost daughter, discovered on a bench, left in a field, found wandering alone, can be nourished, touched, smiled at, and given a home – if not in the land of her birth, then in another place where she’ll be happy.
This is, in fact, the major tone of the book. Is it too optimistic? Too cloyingly sweet? Are the Lost Daughters of China precious gifts from the developing world to thankful Americans? Or are they goods stolen from desperate circumstances and limited options?
One thing to remember: this book was published in 2000. That might seem pretty recent but in the decade since then, tremendous changes have occurred in China. Annual economic growth rates between 8% and 10%. Expansion of super highways that have transformed inaccessible rural areas into booming metropolises. Many migrating from rural to urban. In China, the numbers are always gigantic. The book is talking about a population of China of 1.2 billion people in the late 1990s. By 2010, the population is 1.34 billion, an increase of 9%. Change in China has been phenomenal from any point of view in the ten years since the book was published.
This is a link to a picture of Mei Mei shortly after she came from Aksu, China, to Lynchburg, Virginia, in December 2006. She was 3 1/2 years old; she weighed 18 pounds. I took her all over downtown to introduce her to people who had heard she was coming. She came with short hair. This made some people think that maybe she was a boy. But her hair grew and so did she. However, she is still the smallest in her second grade class. (less)
Is there something good to be said of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s? If there is, do not expect Diane Wei Liang to say it. She left Chi...moreIs there something good to be said of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s? If there is, do not expect Diane Wei Liang to say it. She left China with wounds from that era as well as the experience of Tiananmen Square, another more recent negative event in Chinese history.
The Eye of Jade is the first in what is so far a two book series about a Beijing woman private investigator. More are anticipated. The first quarter of this book focuses on character development of the protagonist and some of the supporting characters. The balance of the book is as much a story of a Chinese family as it is a mystery. As you might expect in the first book of a series, some people and situations are introduced that you might expect to reappear in future books. Murder, family secrets and a lost love all take their turn. And then there is the Cultural Revolution that still tears apart this family many years later.
I give the book an extra star because one aspect, the lost love that briefly reappears, resonates and speaks to me as one who has a long ago lost love. It’s that part of me that thinks some chick lit is quite OK. Whether this book is chick lit or a mystery, I will leave for others to debate. (less)
I read this book because I have an adopted daughter who was born in Aksu, China. This book takes you into modern China as it weaves it tale of mystery. As in many detective stories, all the loose ends are wrapped up in the last pages. At 224 pages in paperback, it is a short book easily read in a couple of days. I found it enjoyable and informative to read without taxing my summer brain overmuch. (less)
Hessler's personal experience in China as a foreigner fluent in Chinese is necessarily anecdotal. But fascinating to me, the father of a seven year ol...moreHessler's personal experience in China as a foreigner fluent in Chinese is necessarily anecdotal. But fascinating to me, the father of a seven year old girl adopted from Aksu, Xinjiang province. He has immersed himself in the Chinese culture, not as a sociologist, but as a sensitive person. He considers himself a journalist but he is not dispassionate or impersonal about his subjects. Factual information is scattered throughout the narrative without distracting from the very readable story.
LATER: I can't help but like Peter Hessler. He considers himself a foreign correspondent but for much of the book, especially the last half, he is an investigative journalist with an ability to dig for the truth and to personalize his subjects. He has an ability to get inside his material without being totally subjective. He is not an invisible narrator; you are looking over his shoulder and benefiting from his experience.
He covers a very wide range of topics. He covers the issues of the Uighur minority in China as well as related to the political asylum obtained by a Uighur in the U.S. He examines China's past through archeology as well as personal encounters with Chinese with roots in the past century of upheaval. He tells of Chinese westerns with insight about the movie business in China, from major productions to pirated DVDs. We learn about the role of Chinese written language -- characters -- in the past and present, given its unique history of thousands of years as well as its more recent political implications. He covers the events of September 11, 2001 from his personal perspective as well as a Chinese one.
He observes that "sometimes the more information you have, the less you know. And there is the point at which even the best intentions become voyeurism." He is sensitive to the pitfalls of his craft.
I have now read all three of his books written over more than a decade. He has changed and China has changed tremendously. The hook for me is that I am the father of a daughter adopted from China. My experience about China is, like Peter Hessler's, very personal. (less)
**spoiler alert** No offense, but I wonder if this is just an early version of the soaps on afternoon TV. But it was enjoyable to read and it got me i...more**spoiler alert** No offense, but I wonder if this is just an early version of the soaps on afternoon TV. But it was enjoyable to read and it got me involved in the emotions and drama. So I am going to pretend that it bears no resemblance to a soap opera. Well, maybe just a slight resemblance.
I picked up Pavilion of Women from a used book shelf at the local bookstore. Pearl Buck was a graduate of a local college, Randolph Macon Woman's College, in 1914. Since I live in that college town, Lynchburg, VA, and have adopted a daughter from China, I thought I should give Pearl a try. Guess I better put The Good Earth on my to-read list!
It was fascinating to watch Madame Wu change from a manipulative mother plotting to get her children to do what she wants (while having them think they had made up their own mind) to a mother who gave her children permission to do what they desired. I guess some might say that this was the result of a religious conversion but I try not to think of it that way. Buck grew up speaking Chinese and developing a close relationship to the Chinese culture. The background of parents being missionaries gives Buck an personal entree into the interaction of Christianity with the traditional Chinese culture. She puts that to good use in developing the character of the priest in the book who is in China having been expelled from his own church for being a heretic. Evidently taking the style of Jesus and seeing divinity in each person, he sets about doing good in a rural Chinese community where Madame Wu is the head of a rich and powerful family. Think of the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod. She is the wise and revered matriarch of this household of 60 (including the servants, I believe.
The relationship of marriage is a fascinating one to explore with Pearl Buck in the hopelessly behind the times Wu family. Madame Wu still travels via a sedan chair carried by four servants. The four sons, with their arranged marriages often in shambles, are guided by their mother whose goal is for everyone to be happy. When she finally gets humanist religion and begins to loosen up, she begins to channel the (now dead) priest whom she discovers at his violent death that she loves -- having never loved her husband. The connection of love and marriage, and the appropriate replacement of love with duty in an arranged marriage is explored throughout.
I have read that some readers have been put off by the "religious" aspect of the story. As an unchurched person, I would be a likely candidate to be one of those people but, in fact, I was not. It seemed to me that the religiosity of the book was well within the bounds of the story without being at all overwhelming. In the book religion as practiced by the priest, seems to be being kind and generous to all people and doing good. (Like picking up abandoned girl babies left to die outside the city wall.) The priest had, after all, been thrown out of his church -- what does that say about organized religion? -- and he is obviously a good guy who bridges the gap in the book between traditional Asian culture and western culture. (less)
In the early 1960s when I was a teenager my parents bought a Volkswagen Bug. In those days VW drivers honked and waved whenever they passed another VW...moreIn the early 1960s when I was a teenager my parents bought a Volkswagen Bug. In those days VW drivers honked and waved whenever they passed another VW. Living in a suburb of the Car Capital, Detroit, buying a foreign made car was not exactly the right thing to do but still there were a lot of Volkswagens to honk at. And there were clever VW ads in the magazines. I cut out the ads, probably from Time magazine, and put them on the wall inside our garage where they remained for several years. Maybe until I went to college.
One of the things I learned in college is that people pay close attention to advertisements for things they have recently purchased, especially major purchases like a car. We do this to reinforce our need to feel that we have made a good choice. Viola! My parents bought a VW and I plastered the garage with dozens of VW ads.
These days every time I see something about China or Chinese adoptions, I put it on my list to read. I am the father of a 7 year old girl from China who was 3½ when she came to us. That means half her life so far has been spent in another country living a life about which we know very little. I read about the history of her birth country to understand how we brought a little bit of China into our house, to affirm our decision and to see what those missing 3½ years might have included. I read the fiction of Pearl Buck and the nonfiction of Peter Hessler. I take a course on Chinese culture. I follow China in the news.
Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other is, I think, better described by the subtitle: In Praise of Adoption. Simon explores the worlds of adopted children, the people who adopted them and the people who are the birth parents. He especially focuses on Chinese girls because that is his personal experience. The beginning focuses on the experience he and his wife had deciding to adopt, going through the bureaucratic process and actually going to China to get their first daughter. Much of the book is a pep rally for adoption. It is not judgmental about the birth parents and has several moving stories about adopted children being reunited with a birth parent. Simon does clearly negatively judge the Chinese one-child policy.
The book covers a lot of information and ideas in its quickly read 180 pages. Lots of statistics and facts and anecdotes about the outcomes of some specific adoptions are woven together with both the good and the bad. But, regardless of any cautions and negative details, the book is positive overall with a lot of emotional content.
Simon goes into some detail about the concept of primal wounds as it relates to adopted children. This theory says that the separation of the child from the mother – even immediately after birth – damages the child since a child has those nine months in the womb and has an intimate relationship with the mother as a result. The infant knows that the caregiver is not the familiar mother and suffers a psychic wound. Simon seems to take a middle ground about this concept, neither accepting nor totally rejecting.
If you who have adopted internationally, especially from China, you will want to read this book. It will tug at your heart strings but I mostly did not mind the sentimentality. As a guy who finds it hard sometimes to display emotions, I appreciated that this book sometimes (especially at the beginning and the end) brought the tears out. People considering international adoption should include this on their reading list to help decide if this kind of adoption is for them. The opening sections of the book that cover the adoption experience of the author and his wife really put you right there in the room with them. From our Chinese adoption experience, it was like he was writing about us.
Since Scott Simon is a well known personality from National Public Radio, there are some famous people whom Scott has evidently met through his work and their adoption stories. The fame of the author and some of the subjects will likely give this book some buzz that it might not have experienced otherwise. It is a small book worth reading. (less)
Lucky Girl is a must-read if you are a parent, sibling, or other close relative of an adopted Asian girl. Others may find it less compelling. I give...moreLucky Girl is a must-read if you are a parent, sibling, or other close relative of an adopted Asian girl. Others may find it less compelling. I give it an extra star since I have an adopted Chinese daughter.
Mei-Ling Hopgood came to the United States when she was 8 months old, given up by her biological parents and adopted by a Caucasian couple in Michigan. She spent her growing up years trying to be a white American in spite of her Asian background and appearance. She left Taiwan, China behind, creating her own imagined story of how she came to be in her loving family in America. In her early twenties she is contacted by her birth family, Ma, Ba and adult biological sisters, and finds herself with two families and a history that she had never known or imagined.
Mei-Ling was reunited with her Chinese family in 1997; this book was published in 2009. Hopgood is a journalist. She knows how to write. It took her a dozen year s to bring her book to completion, years that included the joy and the pain of discovering a lost history. The blurb on the cover reads: “A compelling, honest, and very human tale about self-identity and the complex concept of family.”
This book came alive for me as I recalled my own experience as the father of a Chinese daughter adopted when she was 3 ½ years old. Those first several years of Fu Ping’s life are mostly a mystery to us. We have created our own story of how we think Mei Mei came to be abandoned in Aksu in far western China at the age of three months. She came to us with a repaired cleft lip, an unrepaired cleft palate and weak legs that could barely run. When she was found, she was severely malnourished, we assume because her parents could not successfully feed her with the cleft that made sucking impossible. At the age of three and a half she was still very tiny, even by Chinese standards. Her size 24 month clothing is too big for her. She is under twenty pounds but a voracious eater. She eats absolutely every morsel of food given to her. She remembers when the next meal was not a certainty.
At the beginning Lucky Girl reads a little like I imagine an international pen pal letter. The sentences are not complex and the details are sometimes more mundane than you might expect in a published work. Mei-Ling attributes her focus on detail to her career as a journalist.
Irene [a younger sister of Mei-Ling who had also been given away for adoption] grew up in a pretty four-bedroom home that her father designed with a pitched roof on a winding street called Dersbachstrasse, not far from Lake Zug [Switzerland]. The front yard was often garnished with brilliant red geraniums. They had a swing set, a tree that the kids loved to climb, and a huge garden in the backyard where they grew their own vegetables and fruits, including beans, potatoes, cucumbers, berries, and figs. From the back of the house, they had a marvelous lake view. Her childhood was happy and simple. Her mom loved to cook and made almost everything from scratch. Their neighborhood was full of kids their age, and they usually went on vacation during the summer (to the beach, usually Italy) and winter (skiing at a small resort). Often their many aunts, uncles, and cousins came along. They also hiked in their mountains with their extended family.
But as the story becomes more complex, so does the writing. Mei-Ling keeps a journal so is good at recalling and retelling events.
Although the book is called “a memoir,” Mei-Ling is not really a memoir kind of person. I think it would be more accurate to subtitle the book “a reminiscence.” The writing is more causal and personal than formal. I enjoyed getting to know Mei-Ling Hopgood; it seems right to call her Mei-Ling rather than Ms. Hopgood. The book is relatively short and easy to read. That does not mean that it gives you nothing to think about. International adoption is a controversial topic in itself. And in Lucky Girl we find Mei-Ling is one of eight daughters and one son. A sister three years younger had also been given away. A third sister had been offered for adoption but was kept when no adoption arrangements could be made. What was going on with her birth parents? They would not have given away boys. After a childhood and young adulthood distancing herself from her Chinese roots, at the age of 23 she finds she has a large family. And they want her to come and see them!
The book is about Mei-Ling’s journey to meet and become a part of her lost family. And don’t miss the section about “meeting Ma’s bathroom needs” in Chapter 15! Maybe more than you want to know. The book is sprinkled with surprising little tidbits. (“She also had an awesome Japanese-style toilet with a seat that warmed up with the touch of a button.”)
The woman doesn’t know that I am the sixth daughter of a farmer and his wife. I could have grown up in the sweltering humidity of Taitung, eating rice porridge for breakfast, learning Chinese script, and toiling in the sun under my father’s watchful eye, or I could have been given to an alcoholic uncle who had no wife and no children and who desperately wanted his own family. I could have been engulfed by the secrets of my own house, burning incense in honor of my ancestors. I could have gone to college in Taiwan, studied English on the side, and scrambled to build a life in a small apartment in the cramped city of Taipei.
Instead, she was sent to Michigan as an infant who would have no recollections of Taiwan but was destined to come to love her Asian heritage and to love her complex Taiwanese family. (less)
I am chasing my adopted daughter’s heritage by reading books about China, especially as it relates to abandoned and damaged daughters. If you have bee...moreI am chasing my adopted daughter’s heritage by reading books about China, especially as it relates to abandoned and damaged daughters. If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that my daughter who is ten years old was abandoned in Aksu, China at the age of 3½ months. We believe that because she had a cleft lip and palate her parents were unable to nourish her so abandoned her in a safe location so someone with more access to medical resources could save her life. She was very malnourished when she was found and, in fact, when we adopted her more than three years later, she was still diagnosed by our doctor as “failure to thrive” due to her very low weight. At the age of 3½ years she was eighteen pounds!
The Good Women of China is filled with amazing (and appalling) information and observations. For example:
Oh, poor Xinran. You haven’t even got the various categories of women straight. How can you possibly hope to understand men? Let me tell you. When men have been drinking, they come out with a set of definitions for women. Lovers are “swordfish”, tasty but with sharp bones, “Personal secretaries” are “carp”, the longer you “stew” them, the more flavour they have. Other men’s wives are “Japanese puffer fish”, trying a mouthful could be the end of you, but risking death is a source of pride. And what about their own wives? “Salt cod.” Salt cod? Why? Because salt cod keeps for a long time. When there is no other food, salt cod is cheap and convenient, and makes a meal with rice…
Blood boiling yet? There is much more to create a rolling boil. You won’t believe it. The book has fifteen stories about fifteen different women in China being treated extremely badly. You might wonder if these stories are representative of the Chinese society as a whole. From what I have learned about China these were not rare experiences for women and girls during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Their horrid experiences are recalled by women in the 1980s and 1990s and told to Xinran, the author who became a trusted listener as well as recalling her own bad experience as a girl child.
At that time women obeyed the “Three Submissions and the Four Virtues”: submission to your father, then your husband and, after his death, your son; the virtues of fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and action, diligence in housework. For thousands of years, women had been taught to respect the aged, be dutiful to their husbands, tend the stove and do the needlework, all without setting foot outside the house.
I know from the experience of my adopted daughter that many girls, including babies, have a hard beginning if they survive at all. This is a result of both the one child policy and the overwhelming desire that the first child be a boy.
Many other reviews on GR go into more detail about the stories in The Good Women of China. I found the individual stories horrifying but I already knew a good deal about the Cultural Revolution.
During the Cultural Revolution, anyone from a rich family, anyone who had received higher education, was an expert or scholar, had overseas connections or had once worked in the pre-1949 government was categorized as a counter-revolutionary. There were so many political criminals of this kind that the prisons could not contain them. Instead, these intellectuals were banished to remote country areas to labour in the fields.
The stories are individual and therefore more personal than statistics and general recountings of events. Xinran was able to write down and publicize some of the stories she heard once she moved from China to London. In her book she tells about what she heard and what she was able to do while she was a radio broadcaster in China.
Journalists in China had witnessed many shocking and upsetting events. However, in a society where the principles of the Party governed the news, it was very difficult for them to report the true face of what they had seen. Often they were forced to say and write things that they disagreed with. When I interviewed women who were living in emotionless political marriages, when I saw women struggling amid poverty and hardship who could not even get a bowl of soup or an egg to eat after giving birth, or when I heard women on my telephone answering machines who did not dare speak to anyone about how their husbands beat them, I was frequently unable to help them because of broadcasting regulations. I could only weep for them in private.
The stories are not pleasant and there are not many happy endings. But they expose evils that will only be repeated if nothing is done to change things. Things have changed in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution but many women are subjugated, second class beings. Xinran speaks for them in her books.
The Good Women of China delivers an important message to the reader. By telling these stories Xinran exposes a wrong in the world and increases the potential for change. Published in 2002 about the injuries from events twenty-five years before that, Xinran shines a light in the darkness of a past that continues to reach forward into the present. (less)
Factory Girls is the story of change and that change is examined through young girls who migrated from their rural homes to the factory city of Donggu...moreFactory Girls is the story of change and that change is examined through young girls who migrated from their rural homes to the factory city of Dongguan in the south of China as well as Chang’s exploration of her family history in China before her father migrated to Taiwan at the age of twelve when the Communist Party defeated Chiang Kai-shek and assumed power in 1949. Eventually he immigrates to the U.S. where Chang was born. She watched the Cultural Revolution in China from her family’s home in suburban New York. And eventually she returned to her homeland as a journalist for The Wall Street Journal to write a series of articles about young women as migrants. That work lead to this book.
I found the stories to be very readable and engrossing. The author writes in the first person, is a participant in the story (or is at least embedded, as goes the current phrase) and is often asking the girls just the question we want answered. But she does far more than ask questions; she blends into the events and reflects those events from her own point of view. The personalization of the factory girls is accomplished by following the lives of two of the girls who left home in their teens and made a new life for themselves. Their adopted home has a population of seven million with over five million of those being migrants. Chang, fluent in Chinese and with a Chinese background, lived in China for a decade including three years living in very close association with the young women about whom she writes. She went back to the house that her family had fled in 1948. She travelled and spent the Chinese New Year with the rural family of one of the girls. She shadowed the life of a factory girl.
Staying in Min’s village made me think about my own family. Long ago when my parents were children in China, they had grown up in a similar way.
The girls opened their lives to her to an amazing degree sharing their hopes and loves and struggles, not to mention adventures and boyfriend dating lives.
In the factory towns of the south, I was meeting young women and watching them learn how to be individuals. They found jobs; they confronted bosses; they tried to learn new skills. Mostly they came to believe that they mattered, despite their humble origins. Do not feel inferior because we are ordinary migrant workers, Chunming wrote in her diary. We have no reason to feel inferior. In Zhang Hong’s world, it was still 1957 [the Great Leap Forward]. He loved himself; he hated himself. He hated Mao; he quoted Mao constantly. He despised the Party; he belonged to the party. … My thanks go first to those I knew in Dongguan, who taught me so much about this city in which we were all outsiders. Lu Quigmin and Wu Chunming generously opened up their eyes to me, granting me their trust, patience, time, and lasting friendship. Zhang Qianqian and Jia Jimei showed me life on the assembly line, while Jiang Haiyan and Chen Ying shared their struggles to rise above it. Liu Yixia opened my eyes to the way English is learned in a factory town.
Chang writes very comfortably with novel descriptions of people she meets:
He had dark kind eyes in a trim face the color of a walnut; he spoke deliberately, with the precise gestures of a Peking opera performer, and he never raised his voice.
She had dyed and permed her hair so it was long and crinkly, like caramel taffy.
He was three years older than Min and as skinny as a hastily drawn cartoon character, with long limbs and a narrow handsome face and a bashful smile.
The boyfriend answered the door. His face was narrow and tough and darkish red, like a cord of beef jerky; he looked to be in his forties.
He had a narrow face that came to a point at his chin and a tiny square mustache that hung on his upper lip, like a stray postage stamp.
He had a thin face, with the skin stretched tight over the cheekbones and hair so short it gave him a permanently startled expression.
The boy, Zhang Bin, had a narrow face, round dark eyes, and pale cheeks that were flushed with nervousness.
If you are interested in learning about life in China as young people move from rural to urban, this would be a great book. It would be fair to say that I like this book as much as I like the Peter Hessler books about his experiences living and traveling in China. Maybe that is not such a coincidence that Peter and Leslie merged their interesting China lives into marriage. They currently live with their two daughters in Cairo.
In conclusion, Ms. Chang said:
Learning my family story also changed the way I saw the factory towns of the south. There was a lot to dislike about the migrant world of Min and Chunming: the materialism, the corruption, the coarseness of daily existence. But now there was an opportunity to leave you village and change your fate, to imagine a different life and make it real. The journey my grandfather attempted was one that millions of young people now make every day – they left home; they entered an unfamiliar land; they worked hard. But nowadays their purpose was not to change China’s fate. They were concerned with their own destinies, and they made their own decisions. If it was an ugly world, at least it was their own.
It is easy to give Factory Girls four stars. It is well written and interesting. I am attracted to books about life in China since I have an adopted daughter from Aksu, China. (less)
Published in 2004, Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China contains several edited or expanded academic...morePublished in 2004, Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China contains several edited or expanded academic papers written by Kay Ann Johnson that were published in professional journals in the 1990s. The menu in most books on the topic of Chinese domestic and international adoption is heavy on anecdotal data and general information. This book is different.
The conclusions in Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son are based on actual research data based on questionnaires and interviews by the author over a period of years when the content of much of the book was released in academic journals. Ms. Johnson has adopted a daughter from China and travelled to China numerous times to do research. She has kept her finger on the pulse of adoption, abandonment and orphanage issues in China for a long time. Her conclusions may not be what you expect them to be.
While I am not able to analyze the rigor of the research, obtaining subjects was based on self-selection and their availability; no claim is made that there was a scientific or random selection process. The “methodology” was summarized in the book:
From late 1995 to 2000, questionnaires gathered information from  adoptive families and  abandoning families. . . . In-depth interviews were conducted with 60 of the adoptive families . . . Approximately 85% of the abandoning families and 75% of the adoptive families were drawn from twenty counties in one south-central province in China. . . . More than 95% of the abandoning families and about 85% of the adoptive families lived in rural villages or towns. We located the families using informal networks and word of mouth. The adoptions spanned the period from the 1950s to the present, but most (over 90%) occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. All but ten of the 247 cases of abandonment analyzed here also occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. We gathered further information on adoption and abandonment from welfare centers and interviews with local officials, including police, hospital staff, county and township governments, and civil affairs departments. In addition, we collected material from government publications, newspapers, magazines, and journals.
These are not topics that have been significantly researched so there are few if any confirming research studies in the literature. Johnson mentions a Chinese scholar who conducted a smaller survey in a different part of the country that, she reports, had similar results. Being able to replicate Johnson’s research might be impossible in a China of the 21st century, especially for someone from outside the country.
The book does include “A Response to Human Rights Watch” for findings about orphanage care they published in 1996. They concluded that there was “a national policy, carried out in hundreds of local institutions across China, to reduce the population of abandoned infants by the ‘routine murder of children through deliberate starvation.’” The Human Rights Watch report says
We estimate that in China’s best-known and most prestigious orphanage, the Shanghai Children’s Welfare Institute, total mortality in the late 1980s and early 1990s was probably running as high as 90 percent; even official figures put the annual deaths-to-admissions ratio at an appalling 77.6 percent in 1991, and partial figures indicate an increase in 1992. Source: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/summaries/s...
There Is an eight page response (chapter two) plus some additional comments in the last chapter by Johnson to the 331 page HRW report. The HRW clearly wins the page-count prize. Johnson’s rejection of the conclusions of the report seems thin to me. The 1996 HRW report happens within the time frame of the book and is definitely within the book’s purview. The author is under no obligation to respond to or even mention the HRW material but since her goal is to advance knowledge and improve circumstances, those interested in the same goal should have interaction to increase awareness and understanding.
Sorry, I have been distracted by the HRW report. It does make me want to know more about author Kay Ann Johnson who seems to denigrate that report with just a few pages. However, I do recognize that she was sensitive enough to bring up the HRW report when she could have ignored it. I commend her integrity in putting the controversy before her readers.
One thing that we know about China is that it has undergone significant change in the twenty years since Ms. Johnson published her first article in 1993. For people who have traveled to China in the past two decades, the change and development in the country has been astounding. I recommend the three books on China by Peter Hessler to get the view of an ‘outsider’ who lived, worked and travelled in this dynamic country that has shifted from 20% urban dwellers in the early 1980s to 50% now. The rate of urbanization in China is 2.85% annually as compared to 1.2% for the US.
What motivated Johnson to undertake and carry forward her research?
My initial interest in doing research on the causes and patterns of abandonment in China in the 1990s was driven not only by my desire to understand a social phenomenon that was closely related to my previous research on Chinese women and rural society, but also a desire to learn more about my daughter’s and her cohort’s “story.” Above all I imagined that the information gathered through this research would allow her to come to terms with her own abandonment . . .
I am slowly gathering a collection of books about adoption, China, and adoption from China that I hope my daughter who was born ten years ago in Aksu (in far western China) will be interested in reading some day. Although some chapters of Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son have some of the negative attributes of an academic paper (terminology, complexity), it is also, for the most part, quite readable and presented with a human face. Chapter 7 “Chinese Orphanages Today, 2003” is a heartfelt and personal reflection and analysis based both on research and personal experience. I could quote the entire chapter to you!
Chapter 7 should be required reading for all people who have adopted Chinese daughters. And, sadly, at least a summary of the 1996 Human Rights Watch report should also be read and understood to be the alarm bell that it became. The major disagreement between Ms. Johnson and the HRW report is “How did the Chinese orphanage system reach the deplorable state of the late 1980s and early 1990s?” HRW draws the conclusion that the extraordinarily high death rates in some orphanages was due to intentional neglect and malicious actions of the Chinese government. Ms. Johnson agrees that the conditions were totally unacceptable but that the reason was that the orphanage system was severely underfunded and understaffed. It was simply not a priority. She points to the many improvements made since that time.
Knowing what humans have done to other humans at times in this world, I do not find the HRW allegations can be summarily dismissed. The HRW report is the extreme view of a system with horribly poor outcomes that was unable or unwilling to change. In the years following the report, significant change has occurred in some of the orphanages. China, of course, denies the veracity of the HRW report. This report was a significant factor in continuing the ups and downs of the political friction between the U.S. and China.
Johnson herself is critical of the Chinese adoption and orphanage system and makes recommendations for improvement. She believes that international pressure, including the HRW report, helped force the Chinese government to make significant improvements in the child welfare system. She says:
HRW’s politically sensational claim against the Chinese government was false. But China was indeed in the midst of a welfare crisis of huge proportions, one that was not well known even in China, even within parts of the government because the root cause of increasing infant abandonment – the government’s own sacrosanct one-child policy – was so politically sensitive that the true dimensions of the problem had to be hidden. Local civil affairs officials responsible for the care of abandoned children . . . were fully aware of the problem they confronted, but were unable to call attention to the grossly inadequate conditions under which they labored and were forbidden to make public appeals for aid.
This book challenges some of our beliefs about abandonment, adoption and orphanage care in China. Johnson says that her research shows that most abandoned girl babies do, in fact, find a permanent home in China but most often without the involvement of the formal orphanage system. Chinese families with a son often want to complete their family with a daughter. And many childless couples are happy to have a girl child.
Having read the book and some of the HRW report, I am not sure where the balance is between the HRW and Kay Ann Johnson. But I am much more knowledgeable about the Chinese child welfare system and its struggle with the lives of abandoned girls. This is an important book for me to have read. Being pointed to the HRW report is also important.
My own adopted Chinese daughter has opened my eyes and heart to these issues and books like this give my brain something to work with in understanding her first 3 ½ years in China. I give Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son four stars for helping light the path I have chosen to travel. (less)