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

Kay Ann Johnson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 23, 2004 0963847279 978-0963847270
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?

Frequently Bought Together

Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China + Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love + Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
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Editorial Reviews

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yeong & Yeong Book Company (November 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0963847279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0963847270
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courageous book March 15, 2004
By A Customer
Kay Johnson has written that rare book-a detailed look at and analysis of Chinese governmental policy that tells you what actually happens as a result of that policy. This book is important, not only to adoptive families, but also to those who study China and try to understand the real life implications for policies that affect the world's most populous country.
For adoptive families, Kay Johnson has provided an invaluable insight into the circumstances that led to children being available for foreign families. Stripped of the emotional overlay that accompanies so many books about adoption, Kay Johnson fearlessly examines her own preconceptions to get closer to the truth by talking to birth parents, spending time with orphanage officials and pouring over statistics. Kay Johnson shows us what happened, what changed and what could change in the future.
While I personally hope that there will be an international adoption program in place for many years, I am also respectful of Kay Johnson's belief that children are best off being adopted in their birth countries. The children in China's orphanages have been helped enormously by both the international adoption program and by better domestic adoption policies. Kay Johnson, almost alone of the authors and journalists who write about Chinese adoption, recognizes the contributions of the adoptive families to the orphanages as well as recognizing other contributions that have dramatically improved the care of children whose welfare is overseen by the orphanages.
This book offers a unique insight both for those who erroneously leap on the orphanages as a token of the depravity of the Chinese and for those whose choice to adopt in China has given them a life-altering link to a country halfway around the globe.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book for My Daughters... March 8, 2004
Reviewed by the author of "At Home in This World, a China Adoption Story" (EMK Press, 2003):
"Wanting A Daughter, Needing A Son" is a snapshot in time of the socio-political circumstances leading to the abandonment and international adoption of thousands of China's daughters. The facts and statistics that Dr. Johnson cites as part of her research, reflect a complex Catch-22 of a patrilineal society moving from desperate economic survival towards prosperity, and of population laws and policies that are unevenly policed and out of sync with the current emotional lives of Chinese parents.
"Wanting A Daughter, Needing A Son" is not a band-aid; it's truth won't banish our children's feelings of loss, or give adoptive parents the kind of explanations that would allow us to put a loving or heroic spin on the sad act of abandonment. But Dr Johnson's important work broadens the China adoption picture, gives it depth, and hands us the knowledge our children will eventually need in order to comprehend the complicated facets of their own Chinese/American/adoptee identity. Kay Ann Johnson's research uncovers the surprising fact that many thousands of abandoned Chinese babies actually do find happy homes (legally and illegally) within their own communities, despite our previous understanding of the one-child policy and domestic Chinese adoption. In an added twist, our children may someday realize that they have "adoptee peers" in China, who grew up in loving families with Chinese adoptive parents, and without the associated alienation of cross-cultural, trans-racial adoption that our China girls and boys must learn to live with here in the USA.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent February 23, 2005
By Charger
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent work on the population control and adoption policies of communist China. Very detailed and very educational. Explored the causes of abandonment and posited some unexpected conclusions about this issue. One of the best books I have read in a long time.

The only criticism I have is that the author seems to go to great lengths to show that Chinese society has come to value daughters in a way that it did not do so in the past (thus, the book's title). The author asserts that, after having a first son (who will be relied upon for social security in the old age of his parents), Chinese families are more than willing to accept and value a daughter as a second child. However, while there are certainly parents who will make this claim (perhaps because it would be shameful to claim otherwise), the fact remains that almost every infant abandoned in China and almost every child living (and dying) in a Chinese orphanage is a girl. This hardly reflects a new-found appreciation of the value of girls. And the fact remains that more sons will result in more old-age security for the parents. Chinese parents who value one son for the security he can offer will value two sons for the added security.

If you have been touched by adoption from China or just have an interest in China or its population control policies, then this book is worth its weight in gold. Kay Ann Johnson has done a wonderful job.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, yet repetitive March 19, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a graduate student studying the One Child Policy, orphanges, and abandonment in China. I found this book to be very informative. It provided many statistics, which I found useful, and gave new insight into the topic of abandonment. The author's research is fairly limited - she interview ~750 families, but was suggestive nonetheless. Because the book is a compliation of essays, it is pretty repetitive. I would be interested in more academic works on this subject from Johnson.

Be careful about non-academic works written on this subject... they are often a lot of "fluff" based on emotions and rumors, instead of fact. If you are looking for a book to educate yourself and your adopted daughter on China's population policy consequences, then this book would give you an accurate picture.

There has been a lot of news articles recently (3/2006) about Chinese orphanages that are buying/stealing children for sale to American parents. I wonder how the author would consider this in future books?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for China adoption community
I read this before adopting our first daughter from China-really and eye opener- full of great research and statistics(which I did not mind but someone else might find hard to... Read more
Published on April 6, 2007 by Skinny V
4.0 out of 5 stars Very informative book
This book presents lots of information. I did find some chapters seemed repetitive as others suggested. Read more
Published on August 25, 2006 by T. Smyth
1.0 out of 5 stars consider your audience
The book was very disjointed and repetitive. I guess that each chapter was written as a separate journal article. Read more
Published on June 8, 2006 by Chloe
3.0 out of 5 stars Review
This is a book that would not necessarily appeal to the casual reader. This is a work that is filled with statistics and analyses. Read more
Published on March 9, 2006 by A. Brazzeal
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanting a daughter, Needing a son- review from a adoptive parent
This book was good. I needed to fill some time while waiting to adopt our daughter in China. Although I did plow through this book I have to admit unless I was actually studying a... Read more
Published on October 11, 2005 by Shellie Honemann
5.0 out of 5 stars Criticism misplaced
There is no question that this book is academic in tone. It was written by an academic, Dr. Kay Johnson. Read more
Published on June 10, 2005 by Eno fan
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I could afford a copy for every family member
Wonderful book that I am suggesting to all family members that they read in order to better understand the situation in China. Read more
Published on November 1, 2004 by CLM Dumfries, VA
5.0 out of 5 stars An adoptive Mom who's NOT disappointed
The review written by "Disappointed" on Feb. 23, 2004 really embarrasses me on behalf of Chinese adoptive families everywhere. Read more
Published on March 10, 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST HAVE if you adopted in China!
I just finished my "first read" of "Wanting a Daughter, Needing a
Son" and am utterly impressed. Read more
Published on March 4, 2004
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