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Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 331
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  • Book Info
    Transnational Adoption
    Book Description:

    Each year, thousands of Chinese children, primarily abandoned infant girls, are adopted by Americans. Yet we know very little about the local and transnational processes that characterize this new migration.Transnational Adoption is a unique ethnographic study of China/U.S. adoption, the largest contemporary intercountry adoption program. Sara K. Dorow begins by situating the popularity of the China/U.S. adoption process within a broader history of immigration and adoption. She then follows the path of the adoption process: the institutions and bureaucracies in both China and the United States that prepare children and parents for each other; the stories and practices that legitimate them coming together as transnational families; the strains placed upon our common notions of what motherhood means; and ways in which parents then construct the cultural and racial identities of adopted children.Based on rich ethnographic evidence, including interviews with and observation of people on both sides of the Pacific - from orphanages, government officials, and adoption agencies to advocacy groups and adoptive families themselves - this is a fascinating look at the latest chapter in Chinese-American migration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8548-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Adoption Moves
    (pp. 1-34)

    On the first day of February 1997, I walked across a snow-covered school parking lot in Minnesota to join the Chinese New Year celebration of the organization Families with Children from China (FCC). The sidewalk was lined with signs pointing the way, each adorned with a large colorful dragon; “FCC Chinese New Year Celebration” was printed in English on each sign in the jagged-edged font that jauntily signals things Asian. Inside, long cafeteria tables were set with the red paper placemats and chopsticks found at Chinese restaurants across North America. White adults and preschool-age Chinese children milled about, some of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Why China? Identifying Histories
    (pp. 35-64)

    Contemporary poststructural and psychoanalytic theorists defineidentificationas a process that occurs where individual lives meet the haunting of social relationships—a process that “names the entry of history and culture into the subject” (Fuss 1995: 3; see also Cheng 2001).¹ In this sense, there are several overlapping histories that “identify” Chinese adopted children: trans-Pacific migration, the social and legal contexts of domestic and international adoption, and the unfolding dynamics of China/U.S. adoption itself. I see the traces of these histories in the stories American parents tell about how they decided to adopt a child or children from China. As...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Matches Made on Earth: Making Parents and Children for Each Other
    (pp. 65-106)

    At the conclusion of his article “Chinese Orphans in America” (Zhongguo gu’er zai meiguo), China-based journalist Li Yamin (2000) writes, “We also have to ask, who is rescuing whom?” (You gai shuo, shi shei zhengjiu shei?) Coming on the heels of a text extolling the virtues of universal love, Li’s question hints at the exchange of affective and material values that mutually produces children and parents. Indeed, the universalized wholeness promised by adoptive kinship relies on a vision of parent and child uniting in a linear movement toward each other. As a worker at the CCAA told me, she disliked...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Picturing Kinship
    (pp. 107-112)

    The referral packet on a child that has been matched with particular prospective parents usually consists of a small photo and some basic health and background information. Yet this humble set of papers is a tipping point in the transnational adoption story. It is for parents what Jon Telfer (1999) calls “a vital perceptive and transformative moment” (148), especially coming as it does after the long haul of meeting with social workers, filling out paperwork, and perhaps mourning the pain and disappointment of infertility. It suggests the passage from mundane bureaucracy to magical bonds, from abstract, “nameless, faceless” child to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Client, Ambassador, and Gift: Managing Adoption Exchange
    (pp. 113-151)

    Amid the pleasant buzz of a comfortable hotel lobby in a coastal Chinese city, an adoption facilitator spoke to a white American man holding a little girl he had adopted just days before: “The officials want to know if you are satisfied with your new baby.” The facilitator was one of scores of mostly Chinese nationals who escort American adoptive families through the two-week process of adopting children in China, through a series of hotels and government offices wherein is enacted the legal and social transfer of children from orphanages to adoptive families, from China to the United States. From...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Shamian Island: Borders of Belonging
    (pp. 152-162)

    Shamian Island is not technically an island.² It is a flat chunk of sandy soil about a half-mile long and three hundred yards wide that hugs the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou (Canton) on the southern coast of China. A small lighted sign at the main entrance to the island briefly tells its history: the island was ceded to the British and French in 1842 after the Opium War but then returned to China in 1945.³ Perhaps it is fitting that after it reverted to China, Shamian’s old colonial trading houses and elite homes became Chinese government offices...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Storied Origins: Abandonment, Adoption, and Motherhood
    (pp. 163-204)

    Korean adoptee Tonya Bishoff begins her poem “Unnamed Blood,” “i was squeezed through the opening of a powerful steel bird that carried me far away …” (Bishoff 1997: 37); the trans-Pacific airplane that “thrust me into soft, white fleshy arms” symbolizes both the silencing of her previous life and the painful birth of a new one. Airplanes also figure regularly in China adoption stories, but Beijing requires that parents travel to China to meet their children. This is why, as in the story Teresa Huang told her daughter countless times, it is possible for airplanes to become not so much...

  11. CHAPTER 7 American Ghosts: Cultural Identities, Racial Constructions
    (pp. 205-262)

    If a central paradox of constructing the adopted child’s origins is the double-bind of motherhood (two or more mothers, defined simultaneously as natural and chosen), then a central tension in constructing her postadoption identity is the double-bind of race (as both fluid and fixed). But race often comes in through the back door, through what adoptive parents treat as “the culture question” (Volkman 2003; Yngvesson 2000; Freundlich 2000): how much and what kind of Chinese culture do/should/can we incorporate into the child’s and family’s life? As I argue in this chapter, claims to a child’s cultural identity—in relation to...

  12. Conclusion: Akin to Difference
    (pp. 263-282)

    In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of adult Korean adoptees produced stunning autobiographical work that tried to unpack the blind alleys and broad horizons of their identities. The titles of their work alone speak to the experience of transitional, multiple, and dislocated selves:Passing Through, Searching for Go-hyang(Hometown),First Person Plural, The Language of Blood.¹ In each of these four works, the adoptee/autobiographer journeys back to Korea as an adult, searching in different ways for identification. And in all four, nothing is finally resolved; rather, new and more complex layers and possibilities for narrating their stories...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 283-300)
    (pp. 301-320)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 321-330)
    (pp. 331-332)