With the large number of girls who have been adopted into families across China, you think it wouldn’t be hard to find one girl and family for an on-screen meeting with Vivian, our Canadian adopted teen. After all, we reasoned, tens of thousands of girls have been adopted internationally from China since 1991 when the country opened its doors to international adoption. So there must be many, many times that number of abandoned girls who were adopted within China, right?
And all evidence supports that the girls and families are there. Challenge #1 is finding these families – no one has been keeping any statistics or registries. And when you do locate them through creative research means, challenge #2 is how to encourage these families to speak about adoption openly.
Co-director Dr. Changfu Chang knows just how hard this process can be. He’s directed six films about adoption issues and is right now visiting China, finding the research on this one to be especially difficult.
For starters, the attitude towards adoption in China is very much like it was in North America five or six decades ago. In the 1940s and 50s, adoption was a hidden issue. People often didn’t tell an adopted child she was adopted until adulthood – if ever. They hid the fact from family and neighbours. And certainly no one wanted to speak out if they themselves had given up a child for adoption.
While this attitude has changed enormously in Canada and the US the past thirty years, the subject is very much still taboo in China. Adopted girls frequently aren’t told they were once a foundling. And even if the child does know, many families feel it is too shameful to share their story.
Changfu is right now in the midst of calls and emails to his contacts in and around Jiujiang and across China, seeking information about families who have either formally or ‘informally’ adopted girls who are now teenagers. He’s tracking down friends-of-friends-of friends and introducing himself and the idea of our documentary, slated to shoot this August. As soon as he has a half dozen families on his list, he’ll travel to Jiujiang to meet them in person over the next two weeks.
Deciding to be a part of a documentary is rarely a simple process for any participants – but it’s even harder for those who feel they may have something to lose. Changfu’s work is to show these families what they stand to gain by meeting Vivian and her family and by being part of this story.
It’s a leap of faith between filmmaker and subject. Can they believe that by speaking up and letting others in on their lives, this act of bravery can inspire change around them and within themselves? In the coming weeks, we will see which families and young women feel they can take this chance.