Deng Xioaping could never imagine a conversation explaining the “One Child Policy”, or “Family Planning Policy” as it’s known in China, to the children affected by it. Were he alive today and able to address the diaspora of Chinese children, what would he say? Being the pragmatic man Deng was I suspect the answer would be “Go ask your parents”.
I’m not expecting the “one child policy” to be the starting line of any conversation with Penelope, but I can imagine a conversation getting there. Penelope, like many young Chinese girls (and some boys), lives in a “Which one doesn’t look like the rest?” household. One day soon the question “Why don’t I look like you?” or some variation will be asked. We will traverse the well worn path of “You have a mom in China and grew in her belly”. This will most likely lead to the question “why couldn’t I stay with my real mom?”, at which point I’ll start reaching into the geo-political answers to the question.
I’m not convinced the “one child policy” is the reason our family exists, but it is a piece of the puzzle and without doubt will come up. With no experience answering anyone’s questions, let alone a child’s, about the “one child policy”, I can only guess what I will say. Penelope’s comprehension and maturity level will be the biggest factors in the answers provided.
In the spirit of naiveté, here are my imagined answers by age range.
Age 3 – 4
A long time ago the people in charge of China believed there was not enough food to feed everyone if mom’s and dad’s had more than one child. So they decided the only way to make sure everyone got food was to make sure lots of the mom’s and dad’s only had one baby If they have more than one baby the parents get in trouble. And when the parents get in trouble they can’t take care of their babies, or even themselves. So some parents make a very hard choice and try to find another family to take care of their baby.
The danger of painting myself into a corner seems particularly high at this stage. During our stay in China one of the traveling families had a four-year old girl. She asked “why” a lot; I’ve been told most children do. A “why” at any point in this explanation could get messy.
Of all the ages I feel most inadequate to answer, this is the one.
Age 5 – 7
At this age I can begin elaborating on the trouble some Chinese families find themselves in when the Family Planning Committee discovers an unauthorized child is on the way.
First, China and America have different rules. If a mom and dad in China already had a baby and started to have another they would either have to pay a lot of money called a “fine”. This fine is REALLY big. Just imagine if all the money mom and dad made for a year had to be saved up to pay this fine. It would be so much money there wouldn’t be any money left for anything else, like food. They have to decide: do the mom and dad try to find another home for this new baby, hoping it grows up in a good home with a good family? Or do the mom and dad get in trouble and have the baby taken away?
I’m not sure what age many Chinese adoptees realize gender plays a role in “why am I here and not in China?” but I expect it will be around this time. (If any Chinese adoptees out there would be willing to discuss this, I would be grateful.)
If it does come up then we continue the discussion.
A long time ago a man named Confucius said a lot about what would work best for Chinese people all over the country. One of Confucius’ ideas was boys are more important than girls.
Also, when a mom and dad got old they needed someone to take care of them. When a girl got married she became part of her husband’s family. She took care of her husband and her husbands mom and day. The girl’s mom and dad had to take care of themselves if they didn’t have a boy. And that’s why they wanted to have at least one boy.
If the mom and dad had a boy, he would live with his parents and take care of them when they got old. Confucius said it was the boy’s duty, or job, to take care of them.
People thought this way for so long some didn’t think it could ever change. But it’s starting to change and moms and dads in China know that girls and boys are equal and that girls can take care of their moms and dads too. One day we hope everyone in China, and the world, knows that girls and boys are equal.
All discussions are subject to Penelope’s maturity level and interest. It is not my desire to introduce her to Orwellian concepts any earlier than necessary.
Age 8 and up
Here we can flesh out some of the weaker points by going back to why the policy was implemented to begin with by delving into the history. As she gets older I’ll recommend Xinran’s work (especially “Messages From An Unknown Chinese Mother“).
My intention is for Penelope to understand that decisions such as the “One Child Policy” do not occur in a vacuum. There is always back story. To understand how a law passed decades before Penelope’s birth affects her I will encourage asking “why”. And not to stop asking until she decides to stop.
There is no satisfactory answer. If my response to her question is good it should meet the immediate need, be appropriate for her age, be truthful, and require further discussion as she gets older.
If you are a Chinese adoptee or the parent of one, how and when did this conversation go? I’d love to hear from you.