China's Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy

Kay Ann Johnson (Author)

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publish Date
March 21, 2016
5.6 X 1.0 X 8.7 inches | 0.95 pounds
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About the Author

Kay Ann Johnson is professor of Asian studies and political science at Hampshire College, where she also directs the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment. She is the author of several books, including Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son.


"One cannot come away from this book without a much deeper understanding of the terrible human toll caused by the One-Child Policy. Johnson, the foremost authority on adoption and child abandonment in rural China, debunks the popular notion that birth parents viewed abandoned daughters as 'throwaways' at worst, second-class citizens at best. Contrary to the constructed narrative, efforts to keep a daughter collided with a nearly insurmountable wall of laws designed to support the One-Child Policy--with no regard for the best interests of the child. Johnson honors the stories of the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the relinquished daughters caught in the vortex with her sympathetic and sophisticated analysis."--Tyrene White, author of China's Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People's Republic
"This is an important book. Johnson provides extraordinarily rich, compelling evidence of what many Chinese families have done to hang on to their daughters, or to adopt daughters from others--all in the face of strong state restrictions and harsh punishments. China's Hidden Children undermines simple descriptions of what has been going on in China and corrects many misimpressions."--Nancy E. Riley, coauthor of Making Families Through Adoption
"How did more than 120,000 Chinese children, the great majority baby girls, become available for international adoption in recent decades? In answering that question, this important work, the product of more than two decades of painstaking research in China, dispels multiple myths. Not patriarchal devaluation of girls nor venal and brutal local officials, but unyielding national government pressure for enforcement of the one-child policy's limits on both births and domestic adoptions, is the primary explanation. The detailed and heartbreaking case studies that Johnson uses to build her critique, of rural parents trying to hide 'out-of-plan' children and of baby girls seized from anguished adoptive parents, will leave readers enlightened but also profoundly shaken."--Martin K. Whyte, Harvard University
"Based on a quarter century of intensive research, Johnson provides a rare account of the domestic circulation and hiding of children from authorities within China. The vivid stories of Chinese parents finding ways to hide and hold on to their 'unplanned' births, while others relinquished their daughters and occasionally sons, and still others welcomed those children as their family members, reflect a complex coexistence of helplessness, remorsefulness, and also hopefulness and humanity, in a society where common people face multiple pressures imposed by the state. This is a book that details a relatively unknown aspects of Chinese family lives for China experts, international as well as domestic adoptive families, and anyone interested in the contemporary Chinese families and society."--Weiguo Zhang, University of Toronto Mississauga
"Johnson continues her quest to uncover the hidden reality and long-term consequences of China's family planning laws, which up until 2016 prohibited more than one child per family. She provides a thorough examination of the effects of the one-child policy on rural families. In telling the stories of parents forced to abandon daughters, Johnson debunks the myth that Chinese families unequivocally favor sons. . . . This book is important for challenging conventional assumptions that international adoption is the only option for 'unwanted children.' Johnson's comprehensive survey humanizes a rural population often overlooked in debates over Chinese family planning policies."
-- (04/25/2016)
"Johnson's extraordinary book conveys the intense suffering of ordinary people struggling to build families against the will of an implacable bureaucracy."--Foreign Affairs (04/25/2016)
"A searing, important, and eminently readable exploration of China's one-child policy. China's Hidden Children lays bare how the one-child policy actually unfolded and how so many adopted children were not 'abandoned' in any normal sense of the word."
-- (04/25/2016)
"Johnson demonstrates-- more explicitly than I have seen anywhere else--that the 1990s, the period when international adoption of Chinese children first began, saw 'one of the largest, most brutal birth-planning campaigns that has ever swept the rural areas of central and southern China.' Throughout her book she shows that these policies deprived millions of Chinese of their fundamental civic and human rights, such as the freedom to grow up in their birth families and the right to health care, education and a secure place to live. Such a concisely and clearly written account is the result of fifteen years of investigation, mostly in rural areas, and of many hundreds of interviews."-- (04/25/2016)
"The [One-Child Policy] has had no shortage of coverage. But no one has told this story so well--the story of why Chinese people abandon their girls. And, even more interestingly, of why they do not. . . . Johnson tells of parents hiding children in remote mountain villages, mothers staying indoors for months to conceal their pregnancies, childless bachelors pretending to be fathers, and children swapped with those of relatives. Her book is a portrait of pain. . . . Like much of the conventional wisdom about China and its one-child policy, . . . the western misconception that Chinese people hate girls is just plain wrong."-- (05/04/2016)
"After years of research, Johnson has unpacked a number of misconceptions and misrepresentations. . . . Compared to much writing about adoption, which plumbs the motivations of parents who relinquish or adopt, or the local-level corruption of individual agencies or middlemen, Johnson's focus is larger: on the government of a huge country and how its social engineering efforts created a widespread crisis for hundreds of thousands of children and their families."
-- (06/06/2016)