[Dear readers: After enjoying the below article, we hope you will read contributor Chris Zheng's follow up piece about the cultural challenges that searching for one's birth parents can raise in China. It is available here.]
“Hey son, do you know this person?”
My dad pointed to his computer screen. In the middle of the news article he was showing me, I saw a picture of a girl with a bright, familiar smile. The headline read, “Yale girl returns to China to find birth parents.”
Of course I knew her–her name is Jenna Cook, and she’s a fellow sophomore in my residential college at Yale. Smart, fun, caring and compassionate, Jenna is a great student, and an even better friend.
Jenna, whose Chinese name is Xia Huasi (夏华斯), was abandoned at a local sub-district office in Wuhan soon after she was born. A local family took care of her for three months before she was adopted by an American lady by the name of Margaret Cook.
With full support from her adopted mother, Jenna never ceased to explore her heritage. She had come to China numerous times in the past to study Chinese and to work as a volunteer for her former orphanage in Wuhan, but this current trip, her fifth, is special. This time, she is determined to find her birth parents, as well as the host family that took care of her as an infant.
I was already familiar with Jenna’s story, but to read of it in a Chinese news article was exhilarating. The piece that my father read was originally from Chutian Metropolis News, a local newspaper in Wuhan who had interviewed Jenna in person. The story then became widely circulated both in print and on the Internet, where it was featured by major Chinese “gateway websites” such as Sina and Tencent.
Jenna was also invited to share her story with netizens on Tencent Weibo, one of China’s biggest microblogging platforms. The “micro interview” turned out to be hugely popular, generating over 330,000 Weibo posts (you can read the entire conversation here). Her first introductory tweet garnered 28,000 reposts and almost 4,000 comments.
I am happy that Jenna managed to spread the word regarding her project, and I hope that she manages to find the information she needs. Most netizens share my enthusiastic support for her project, and gave her their full-fledged blessing and approval. Although generally supportive, netizens also voiced their concerns. Many wondered why she still wanted to find her birth parents, given that they had abandoned her in the first place.
Jenna responded via her Weibo, “They gave me my life. I feel very grateful… [When I find them] I want to see how they are doing, and to give them my love. I will try my best to help them.”
Her kindness and forgiving attitude touched the hearts of many. @左海游子 wrote, “You are a kind girl. You are repaying misdeeds with kindness. You still love your birth parents so deeply, and have not forgotten the family who took care of you. Your story is so touching. I sincerely wish that you’ll be able to fulfill your dream of finding your parents!”
Some netizens were more skeptical. @鱼不离水 voiced his opposition: “I advise that you stop trying to find your birth parents. I believe that they don’t have nearly the compassion and broadmindedness of your adopted mother, or else why would they have abandoned you in the first place? Even if you find them, it will only bring them regret and humiliation. Why bother?”
@范凯俊 elaborated, “In China, things are often more complicated. We have an old saying: ‘the birth mother is not as dear as the adopted mother.’ [生母不如养母亲] When you were born, the old concept of favoritism for boys was especially widespread. Your birth parents might have abandoned you for that reason. It’s possible that the truth will disappoint you.”
While some netizens condemned Jenna’s birth parents for their supposed heartlessness, others took a more sympathetic view. @我的春天来了 posed the question, “What if your birth parents were in a awkward position themselves? Suppose that you were born out of wedlock. In that case, your birth parents might have their separate families now, and your sudden appearance would turn their lives upside down. In China, parents usually only abandon their children when they have no other choice. What parents can stand losing their own children?”
Whether her birth parents are to blame is unimportant. Jenna herself emphasized that she did not resent them, and that she wished to give them nothing but her gratitude and love. However, realistic obstacles still remain between Jenna and her goal.
@端木赐香 listed the potential problems that Jenna faced: “First, your birth parents might not have been married then, and may still be unmarried now. Second, they might not remember you at all. It’s also possible that they live in the lower reaches of society and can’t hear your pleas. Finally, it’s a private matter and they might not want to come forward for that reason.”
Despite the difficulties, Jenna appears unfazed. When netizens asked her whether she would give up her search if her efforts prove unfruitful, her response was firm: “Even if I can’t find them this time, I will go on trying. I will search for them for the rest of my life.”
Her determination seems to have paid off. Today, Jenna tweeted via her Tencent Weibo account, @JennaCook, that she had located her host mother, who is now living in Chongqing. Although she is still a few steps removed from finding her birth parents, we have every reason to believe that she will succeed.
As @邢军 wrote: “Seeing that she has gone so far as to come to China five times to find her birth parents, why would they still be afraid to step forward? [As her birth parents], you have already made one mistake. Don’t make another one. Family love is priceless. After all, blood is thicker than water. So please come forward, and don’t let her leave your side once more with disappointment and regret.”
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