Christian told his foster mother Julia he wanted to return to China, that’s when Julia realized that the 17-year-old Christian’s troubled mind cannot be resolved with “love” alone.
In Easton, Maryland, United Sates, 17-year-old Christian is a good lacrosse player, he is explosive, coordinated and with a friendly personality he has many good buddies. We all agree that he is a typical American boy. But this special boy, who dreams to become a member of U.S. Navy Seals someday, living in the white majority city, his yellow skin is still very conspicuous.
This abandoned child coming from far away China, in the afternoon without lacrosse, he thinks about his vague memory of his own life experience. Eight years have passed by those fragmented memories of China still haunt him, including “Jia Cheng” (家成) – which is a common name Chinese parents name a boy.
“He conquered my heart that day”
Compare to Christian, mother Julia’s memory is more clear and also from an earlier time. The summer of 2000, at the U.S. Agency for International Adoption Association community coordinator Julia Norris is working as a volunteer in Luoyang Children Welfare Center in Henan Province. One day, she took 30 orphans to the zoo, Christian was one of them.
“He conquered my heart that day, especially his smile in the end.” Even nine years later, Julia still cannot forget the moment she met her son. At that time, Christian has a pleasant Chinese name – “Jia Cheng”.
Luoyang orphanage’s staff member told Julia, Jia Cheng who was abandoned because both of his parents are dead. But this is not how Christian remembered. This boy still vaguely remember, he used to live in a small village, father is a farmer, loves him very much. But he does not know for what reason, one day his father sent him to a family of a couple in the city. He says the couple is his stepfather and stepmother. Stepfather once beat him with shoe and belt. He often thinks of ways to escape to his home of the countryside.
Memory is like an erased tape with blanks in the middle. Christian does not remember how he ended up in Luoyang, Henan province alone.
In regards to this mystery, Julia obtained the following information from the welfare center. In 1998, 7-year-old Jia Cheng was found by the police under a bridge in Luoyang. Because the police were unclear about where Jia Cheng was coming from and how he got there, they send him to the children’s welfare center.
April 2001, Julia returned to China, adopted this unforgettable child and became a single mother.
In Luoyang Children’s Welfare Institute, number of foreign adoptions each year is more than 50 people. Following the Chinese legal adoption procedures, Julia has been issued the certificate of abandonment by the Luoyang Children’s Welfare Institute. The certificate reads:
Dang Ziyang (党子杨), Male, born on August 6, 1994, was found abandoned in Luoyang City, Henan province, West Central Plains Road on February 27th, 1999. On the same day, Luoyang City public Security Bureau delivered him to our Institute (Luoyang Children’s Welfare Institute).
About the name, the official record has the name Dang Ziyang. That is because it is a common practice of all children’s welfare homes to give children the surname “Dang” (党 which means “party”, the communist party that is). However the orphanage staffs have been calling him “Jia Cheng”, it’s a name since his birth. As for the date of birth, the record has August 6th, 1994. But when Julia first asked about adoption, the welfare staff told her he was born on June 1st, 1992.
After handling a not so complex adoption procedure and paid 3,300 dollars, Julia brought Jia Cheng back to Maryland. As a devout Christian, Julia changed Jia Cheng’s name to Christian.
International adoption of orphans in China began in the 1990s when China was seriously pushing its “family planning” policy (the policy which only allows one child per family). Among them mostly are healthy girls, the phenomenon of abandoning babies in China began to attract more international concerns. In 1992, China implemented the “Adoption Law”, which opens the door for adoption of Chinese orphans to foreigners. Same year there were 252 adoption cases, in 1995 there were almost 30,000 cases and continued to grow. In 2005 total adoption cases reached 15,000. Now there are about 60,000 adopted Chinese orphans living in Norton America, about 15,000 in Europe.
The United States has the most adopted Chinese orphans in the world. In 2005 U.S. citizens successfully adopted 7,906 Chinese children. In 2007 China implemented the new adoption law, this number dropped to 3,909 in 2008.
In a distant country, Lucky Christian rediscovered the warmth and love of a family. He is living an American kid’s life: fishing, surfing, Halloween party, and long after, Julia also adopted a little girl from China to be his sister. As time passes by, Christian speaks a fluent American English and gradually forgets his Chinese.
“Was I abandoned?
“Was I abandoned, or my parents carelessly lost me?”
For a long time, Christian was troubled by the mystery of his life. He said “It is so bad to feel this way.”
He knew nothing about how he got to the bridge in Luoyang. In his mind he only remembered a bus and a man gave him money and food. That man could be his stepfather or could be a stranger, he could not be sure.
Julia said, according to the police records at the time, Christian was frightened and could not tell accurate information. As the coordinator of the association of international adoption, she believes that the police have the responsibility to wait till Jia Cheng to calm down and then conduct investigation. But apparently the Chinese police did not do so, directly sent him to the orphanage.
According to Julia, Children’s welfare center following the rule, made public notices on the local newspaper in Luoyang city, but for this child with an apparent foreign accent, a local newspaper notice obviously was hardly effective. Finally, after what appears to be in line with the regulations, Jia Cheng was “legally” adopted.
Over the years, when Christian recalled his childhood little by little, Julia would always record them. Until April this year, after he was adopted for eight years, Christian told Julia like a serious adult, “I want to find my biological parents.” Julia decided to help him to achieve his wish.
42-year-old Julia had good experiences in finding people. The experience at Association of International Adoption gave her understanding of the adoption business. She also served as a private detective for 10 years in the well-known U.S. television show “America’s Most Wanted”.
She found the Chinese website “Baby Come Home” through internet searches and sent an email to them. “Baby Come Home” was founded in 2007 by Zhang Baoyan (张宝艳), a woman from Jilin, the first Chinese website dedicated to find missing children. Zhang had an experience of losing her son for just a few hours allowed her to fully understand the immense suffering of family separation.
How many Chinese children are lost, abducted? It is currently uncertain. However fighters against child abduction and trafficking claim that the number may run into millions. Having witnessed the tragedy of many separated families, Zhang Baoyan founded the website to bring missing children home. There are now more than 3,000 registered families and nearly ten thousand volunteers.
Julia received a reply from Zhang Baoyan very soon. Zhang expressed their willingness to mobilize volunteers to help Christian’s search.
“We found your biological parents”
During the 8 years, Christian had gradually recalled his childhood, he remembered a village called “Dong Jia Gou” (董家沟), as well as his step-parents’ names, the man is named Jing Gaokuan, woman is named Shao Julian. They are doctors, they own a clinic. The woman delivered many babies. He also remembered the couple already has a child, but obviously there were something wrong with him.
In Christian’s memory, his home in the rural area, there are yaks. He has been sleeping in the same heatable adobe sleeping platform. His father was a farmer, and loved him very much. Once his father was backing up a tractor and hit him accidently, his father held him tightly in his arms, eyes filled with tears.
Julia’s letter also provided more details about Christian, for example he likes vinegar, likes to eat potatoes with vinegar, and does not refuse to eat raw garlic.
Based on these sporadic information, “Baby Come Home” Volunteers (with their aliases) "Beijing one rice sunshine", "Shandong silently", "Milan how to", "Guangzhou Huadu pocket Mother" and "Beijing lawyer" began the searches.
First they searched the web. Based on the parents’ names provided by Christian, volunteers searched and analyzed repeatedly, actually found a person named Shao Julian (邵菊莲), once published a paper in a medical journal with a co-author. The co-author’s name is Jin Gaoke (靳高科), which the pronunciation is very similar to Jin Gaokuan.
In the end, volunteers targeted a couple, both doctors at the hospital of Ningxia province, Longde County. There is indeed a village called “Dong Jia Gou” nearby. Ningxia province also has the custom of eating vinegar and garlic, and in rural areas, people still use the heatable adobe sleeping platform.
“One Rice Sunshine” soon found Jin Gaoke’s phone number, but unexpectedly, when she called to ask whether there has been a child missing, Jun hung up the phone immediately.
After several twists and turns, “One Rice Sunshine” and the Ningxia local volunteers contacted Jin’s colleagues in the hospital. They found out Jin indeed lost his son, this news gave volunteers more confidence. Since Jin is not answering his phone, volunteers patiently sent him text messages one after another, and told him the whole story. Finally after gaining Jin’s trust, “One Rice Sunshine” had a talk with Jin.
This couple lost a boy a few years ago, the child’s age and experiences etc. are all very similar to Christian’s. In Christian’s memory, he was born in the country side, and sent to some doctors’ home in the city for foster care. But the real fact is Jia Cheng was born on December 1st, 1991, the step-parents he remembered was actually his birth parents. After Jia Cheng was born, he was sent to the country side to live with his grandmother and uncle (the father in his memory). After awhile, when he was 5, 6 years old, he was sent back to his birth parents to prepare to go to school, until he got lost accidentally on a trip. Jin told the volunteers, in these 11 years, he always feels guilty because he lost the child. To the 70-year-old grandma it was like “tearing her guts out”.
Jin said his son has a hidden scar, was a candle burn mark. Julia confirmed Christian has a scar like this on his leg. After obtaining the information, volunteers initially identified the couple to be very likely Christian’s birth parents.
“I think we have found Christian’s loved ones.” On May 30th, 2009, when Julian read the letter from the Chinese Volunteers she was ecstatic.
The letter from Jin explained how the child ended up in Luoyang. He said the family did not abandon Jia Cheng. In 1998 Ching Ming Festival, he brought Jia Cheng to the country side to his accentors’ graves. When passing through a farmers market. He left his son on a bus and went to shop for some food. 5 minutes later when he went back the bus was already disappeared.
Jin told the volunteers, he and his family exhausted all surrounding provinces and cities but did not find his son. The search went on for one to two years. At the same time, Jia Cheng appeared in Luoyang which was thousands of miles away from Ningxia Longde. He recalled the man who gave him food and money, but till today we do not know who that person was.
“Basically, I believed these explanations.” Julia went upstairs and woke up Christian.
“We have found your birth parents.” When Julia told Christian the news, mother and son both cried.
“Should not let such tragedy happen again”
August 29th, 2009 all efforts have become a reality. Under the facilitation of “Baby Come Home”, Julia came to Beijing with Christian.
11 years of parting led Christian with mixed feelings, he was excited yet and nervous with anxiety. Looking for birth parents was his idea. However, he was also worried, can they live in harmony? Are the birth parents telling the truth? Was it abandonment or just a careless mistake? Did they fabricate the story because of his appearance? He said “After having gone through all this, it is difficult for me to trust them.”
At this point, husband and wife, Jin Gaoke, Shao Julian as well as the uncle Jin Xiaowang – which is the father in Christian’s memory and the grandmother all came to Beijing.
Jin Gaoke felt extremely guilty for the terrible mistakes. He said because of the “Family Planning” policy, in order not to get punished by the government, he sent Jia Cheng to the country side with his brother Jin Xiaowang who gave Jia Cheng the fatherly love. When Xiaowang found out his brother lost Jin Cheng, he went to the city and gave Jin Gaoke a severe beating. Bothers never talked to each other again till this day.
9 am in the morning at Gloria Grand Hotel in Beijing.
Julia, her sister and brother took Christian into the lobby. After looking at their son for only one second, Jin Gaoke and Shao Julian threw themselves forward and burst into tears. “My son! Finally we found you!” Grandmother and uncle were also crying. Jin Gaoke even surprisingly kneeled in front of his son and asking for forgiveness. Everyone in the room was all in tears, the only sound in the room is the sound of camera shuttering and sobbing.
But Christian’s face was expressionless. When Jin Gaoke attempted to pet his head, he was almost running away in disgust, the situation was a little awkward.
“The Child had too much to bear.” one volunteer said. This is such a miraculous story which brought out more than 10 media from U.S. like NBC and Los Angeles Times. But at this moment, no media was going to disturb the reunion. They all went outside and shut the door.
No one knew what they talked about alone in the room. When they came out, Julia told the reporter, Christian already believed Jin Gaoke’s explanations and he now believes it was a careless mistake. “He has already hugged his birth parents.”
In the crowd, the saddest person was the uncle – Jia Xiaowan. This dark skinned simple farmer had deep feelings for Jia Cheng. He still remembers Jia Cheng calling him “dad”. After Jia Cheng was missing, Jin Xiaowang relied on drinking to ease his pain. He was emotional and said “Jia Cheng grew big. He has hairy legs just like an American.”
“I just don’t know why he can’t even speak any Chinese anymore.” Jin Gaoke said, “I hope he can forgive our mistakes.”
“Such tragedy should not happen again. In the case of parents are still around, lost children were adopted, such thing should not happen again.” Julia said. Now her youngest daughter often asks her “Mom, can I find my birth parents?” Julia cannot give her any promises because her daughter was found right after she was born.
Statistics show that now there are about 75,000 Chinese children have been adopted overseas. They can go back to China as tourists when they are adults, but not many of them can be as lucky as Christian to capture the mystery of their early lives. And how many of these children have the same experiences, when it was possible to find their love ones, but were adopted overseas?
Lawyer from “Baby Come Home” Zhang Zhiwei (张志伟) said, in recent years the opacity of children living in institutions is a serious problem. In fact, on July 1st “Nandu Daily” reported the scandals on the welfare center in Guizhou Zhengyuan county. They will take babies away by force if parents cannot afford to pay the fines. They will then announce the baby was “abandoned” and send them overseas for adoption in order to profit. "We hope to introduce more stringent regulatory measures to regulate welfare adoptions." Zhang Zhiwei said.
Memories of the past and life of the present, connected at last after 11 years, two families from US and China were linked together because of one child. After this, Christian is going to go back to U.S. for school. His dream is to join the U.S. Marines. Julia said, “His roots are in China. Regardless of whether he decides to return to China in the future, I will support him.”
Suffering from long-term depression because of the loss of her son, mother Shao Julian has to once again suffer the pain of parting. However, she carefully said, “We want to keep in touch with him, but will not force him to return to China. We do not want to hurt him twice.”
Family brought the abacus Jia Cheng used to play when he was little
Jin Jia Cheng and Julia and her sister in U.S.