A traditional form of adoption in China is called lisi, literally ‘establishing an heir’, which usually involves the naming of a child, most likely a boy, as the descendant of couples who do not have biological children or sons of their own. This practice may or may not be legally binding, and as its main purpose is to continue the family’s name it is rendered by the PRC as ‘feudalistic’. By contrast, the PRC has established an Adoption Law that clearly states that the main purpose of adoption is to enrich the development of the child. The Law restricts adoption to children under fourteen who are: (1) orphans; (2) abandoned children whose birth parents are not found; or (3) children of birth parents who for hardship reasons are unable to raise them. Though abandonment of children is illegal in China, it is believed to be a major source of children in orphanages, also known as ‘social welfare institutes’. It is widely known that the one-child policy has accelerated the abandonment of girl babies. Indeed, the children in orphanages are predominantly girls.
Official statistics report a total of about 900 orphanages in China caring for approximately 200,000 children. The Adoption Law applies similarly to domestic and international adoptive parents—they must be at least 30 years of age, must not have major illnesses, and must have a demonstrated capacity to raise a child. Single persons, but not homosexuals, are also eligible to be adoptive parents. As of 2000, there were roughly 14,000 domestic adoptions in China. It appears that among Chinese a negative connotation continues to be associated with adoption, which in part explains the relatively low number of domestic adoptions.
Chinese adoptive parents also tend to hide the adoption from the child, using strategies such as moving to new communities where neighbours are not aware of the family’s history.
By contrast, the international adoption of Chinese children is the focus of some of the most colourful and widely read stories about China since the early 1990s. In 2000, approximately 10,000 Chinese children were adopted by families from other countries. US families adopted a mere twenty-nine Chinese children in 1990 but by the late 1990s were adopting approximately 5,000 per year, 95 per cent of them girls. Since 1995, China has been ranked first or second (to Russia) as the largest source of adopted children in the USA. Canada and England are among the other prominent countries adopting Chinese children. Many Western adoptive parents see international adoption as an opportunity to further expand the family, and in China’s case also as a response to the heavily criticized one-child policy and allegations of girl infanticide. The China Centre of Adoption Affairs in Beijing centralizes all international adoptions of Chinese children. Only a small number of orphanages are included in the international adoption system and their revenues are abundantly augmented by the ‘donations’, usually a predetermined sum, by adoptive parents. Children in other orphanages, such as those in remote locations, are much less likely to be adopted internationally.
Families with Children from China website:
Johnson, Kay Ann (2003). Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China. St Paul, MN: Yeong & Yeong.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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