Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

China Diary: Adoption, Genealogy Charts and Family History

I was recently in China for 10 days, visiting the main cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. What I found most interesting is how different the context of their beliefs and practices are to my own. Because I am a video biographer, some of the things that I noticed have cause me to look at my field and how much I take for granted about what I do in the context of our American culture.

One thing that I have been giving a lot of thought to is that in our American culture, it has become common for nuclear families to split up and for children to move away and raise their own families in a different geographical location than their own parents or where from they grew up. Grandparents often have to travel to visit their grandkids and video conferencing such as iChat and Skype have become a common way for families to keep in touch. As I tell my own parents (who I don’t have the luxury of living in the same town as), it’s the lucky few that have their extended families with them.

In Beijing, our guide explained that taking care of one’s parents is a cultural norm and that those few who do not help take care of their aging parents are ostracized by the community, and have a difficult time finding jobs or otherwise being respected locally. It’s not unusual for 2 or 3 generations of Chinese families to live in the same house and the elders hold an honored place in the family, and often serve as caregivers and home schoolers for young children. China has a one-child policy introduced in 1978 as a way of alleviating social, economic and environmental problems cause by their growing population. Although there are many exemptions, each couple is officially restricted to one child. Because of this, many only children are growing up in homes with 2 parents and four grandparents. An only child in China is frequently regarded as “a little emperor” or “a little sun”, namely, a spoiled child.

As in many cultures, greater value is placed on a male heir which leaves many young baby girls up for adoption. On my flight back from Hong Kong, there were probably 7 or 8 Chinese children who were coming to the United States for the first time with their newly adopted American mothers and fathers. It really had me thinking about how you explain these histories, both in the family that gave away the child and in the family that adopted this new child.

More and more, American families are supporting open adoption ideals and now call them non-paternal events to explain the genealogical linkage during genealogical research. They celebrate their new child’s cultural heritage and teach them the customs and symbols of their birth cultures. I think it sure makes it easier to know where you come from once you’re older and hopefully, have a better understanding of the political and cultural turn of events that lead to the adoptions in the first place.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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