What happens when an 18 year old American girl adopted from China returns to her birthland to spend summer vacation living with her recently discovered biological parents? That’s the situation of “Ricki’s Promise”, a new feature length documentary. The 84 minute film is set to have its world premiere at the Cincinnati World Film Festival on Saturday, Sept 20 at 3:45 PM. Directed by prolific producer/ director Changfu Chang, who led the filming in China of 2010 of our own documentary “The Invisible Red Thread”, his latest documentary follows Ricki Mudd, 18, as she returns to China to embark on a journey to understand the past. In a culture now foreign to her, with biological parents she barely knows, Ricki struggles to unravel her own identity. Meanwhile, her biological parents confront old wounds as they get to know a daughter they last saw nearly two decades earlier Set against the backdrop of culture, Chinese politics, and larger adoption ethics, this film will soon be widely available for sale. Changfu has a special connection with adoptees and their families, as we got to see when he directed our filming crew in China. We wish him great success with his newest documentary! To learn more about Ricki’s Promise, visit the film’s official website or check out the trailer below. Click to learn more about the Cincinnati Film Festival’s programming.
Update: We heard from organizers that over 200 people had the chance to watch our film, The Invisible Red Thread over the course of the Labour Day weekend. A huge thank you to the Chinese Heritage Camp in Colorado!
From August 29 – September 1, 2014 the Chinese heritage Camp in Fraser, Colorado will screen the Invisible Red Thread at the Snow Mountain Ranch.
About 200 families with children from China attend the Chinese branch of Colorado’s Heritage Camp each year, at the Snow Mountain Ranch in the mountains of Colorado. While the kids take part in a variety of cultural activities like cooking, martial arts, dance classes, and other more common outdoor camp activities like zip lining or white water rafting, parents can attend workshops or play around-the-clock mahjong.
We spoke with the camp’s cultural events and activity organizer, Moiya Smith, about the upcoming screening. She said it’s the weekend’s most anticipated event. “A couple of years ago, we showed our first film and it was so popular that now we are constantly on the look out for films that can help our parents, and that they can share with their kids and discuss.”
The film will show twice, after which there will be a facilitated round table discussion and attendees will also be encouraged to talk amongst themselves afterwards.
Smith says they thought The Invisible Red Thread was a good choice because Shumin and Vivian raise questions that many of their attendees have already asked their parents, or will probably be curious about in the future. “As our kids are getting older, we’re really looking at how they will fit here & how they will fit there [in China]… as Chinese kids in a primarily white society or, at least a mainly white environment. If we’re not scared of these questions, we can really understand and embrace family & cultural heritage & how that fits.”
For more information visit their website or contact the 2014 event directors: Kathy Eason, Ron Fryer, Susie Hale, & Dawn Hinsvark.
This Sunday there will be a special screening of The Invisible Red Thread at The Center for East Asian Studies at Kansas University at the Lawrence Arts Center. It will be followed by a panel discussion, with three specials guests: Sophie Tate (19), Juliana Hacker (19 – who also happens to be Center Outreach Coordinator Randi Hacker’s daughter), and Grace Oliver (19). The three girls are all Chinese adoptees who can relate to the film’s main characters, Vivian and Shumin, and will then share their thoughts and reactions with the crowd.
Although the girl’s don’t know each other, they share a similar experience. The screening of The Invisible Red Thread was actually suggested to Center Outreach Coordinator Randi Hacker by one of the young panelists, Sophie Tate. Sophie is a student at Skidmore college at Saratoga, and as an honors program student she must complete a citizenship project, exploring her culture in a personal way and then writing a paper about her experience. After watching The Invisible Red Thread, Sophie called The Center to ask if they could help her screen the film. Hacker says they happily accepted.
“Not only does it look at the child from Toronto but it also has a great component about contemporary life in China. The girls have all been raised in a similar environment to Vivian’s in Toronto, which is to say indulged and very western. When I saw the film, I came away with the fact that Shumin was way more capable than Vivian… she could provide for her family, she could chop with a big knife…. I want them to come away from the film maybe thinking they should work on their survival skills, or maybe even just come away thinking how lucky they are materialistically. ”
The goal, Hacker adds, is to focus on their experience as adoptees and their feelings of connection with China, which they all feel very strongly about.
Hacker says she expects upwards of about 50 people to attend the event, including many community members who have adoptive children from China. In fact, Hacker adopted her daughter Juliana from China 19 years ago, which is when her love for East Asian culture was born. “When I made the decision to go to China to adopt a baby, I started taking Chinese & getting myself much more involved,” she says. The writer, teacher, and proud parent left her home in New York to move Missouri to take the job at Kansas University, where she now organizes events, conferences, seminars, speakers, classes, festivals, and screenings to promote the CEAS’ mission of advancing knowledge, understanding, and interest for East Asian culture (specifically Japan China, Mongolia, and Korea) in Kansas.
Hacker says the Center for East Asian Studies at Kansas University has one of the broadest reaching outreach programs of any East Asian Studies center in the United States, interacting with over one hundred thousand people through their events, website, Facebook and their highly popular radio show “Postcards from Asia” (first broadcast in 2005 and holding the time slot right before “This American Life”). We’re delighted that The Center has decided to hold this special screening of The Invisible Red Thread.
For more information about the screening, write to us at email@example.com or contact Randi Hacker, Center for East Asian Studies Outreach Coordinator at 785-864-3832.
There were no government sponsored baby hatches at the time that Vivian and Shumin, the two main characters in our documentary, were born in China in the mid 1990s. Vivian was found abandoned as a newborn in front of a hospital while Shumin was given away at 4 months to a family in another town through a mutual friend.
But now China has embraced a new possibility for babies that parents can no longer keep: baby hatches. Equipped with an incubator, an alarm that sounds upon exiting, and a baby bed, parents can anonymously abandon a baby in these rooms knowing that they will be taken care of: welfare staff pick up the baby 10-15 minutes after the alarm sounds.
Baby hatches aren’t a new idea. This kind of arrangement was common in the middle ages and in the 19th century in Europe. Largely forgotten for the past two centuries, hatches have been reintroduced over the past fifteen years in several regions worldwide. The reasons for their use vary from country to country, but nowhere has the process been as quickly embraced by a national government as China. First introduced in 2011, there are currently 32 in use according to the Xinhua News Agency, more than in any other nation except perhaps Poland and Pakistan, where similar services are being run by private or charitable organizations.
China’s need for the baby hatches stems in large part from its One Child Policy. Although the policy has been slightly enlarged in recent years, the majority of families can still only have a maximum of one child. With the strong desire for healthy baby boys, some families feel compelled to give away a physically or mentally disabled child to save the place for a healthy boy or second choice, a healthy girl. In other cases, high medical costs for a child with an incurable disease or a costly curable ailment are the deciding factor. CNN reports the vast majority of children being received at China’s baby hatches come with a range of disabilities and medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, down syndrome, congenital heart disease, club feet and cleft lips.
And what was at first an anonymous practise for parents is now no longer so accessible; the anonymous element of the hatches is starting to erode. Because of the overwhelming number of parents leaving disabled children- as many as 5 a day in some cities – police are now patrolling the hatches and allowing only locals to leave babies who must be under a year old. Parents who have travelled from faraway cities or with older disabled toddlers are being turned away.
The decision to leave a baby, or in some cases, an older child, is never easy. Our documentary clearly outlines the pain a parent giving away a child feels, along with the joy such a child might bring a new adoptive family. And while baby hatches may be a step in the right direction of boosting the survival rate of physically or mentally disabled children, an improved social welfare system for struggling parents would likely greatly decrease the need for these hatches.
Below are links to written and video news stories with more information and personal stories from the baby hatches:
See an NBC news story on China’s baby hatches
See a recent CNN news story on China’s baby hatches:
And another CNN story on a baby hatch overwhelmed:
One of our collaborators on The Invisible Red Thread, Dr. Changfu Chang, has a new film about Chinese adoption out this November 2014. The film, entitled Ricki’s Promise, follows a young Chinese adoptee named Ricki who has been living in the United States with her adopted family. After receiving a letter from her birth parents many years after being adopted, Ricki visited China for the first time at the age of 12. The emotional fall-out of such an important and confusing reunion was at times overwhelming for Ricki, but she promised to return when she was 18. Now a young adult and more emotionally mature, the film documents Ricki’s return as she takes on the challenge of living with her birth parents in China for two months. She faces a plethora of unexpected challenges… her birth parents’ have divorced and she must live with and forgive the brother who’s birth led to her adoption.
What’s intriguing to us is the fact that Changfu plans to raise the $20,000 needed to finish post-production on the film and release it via Kickstarter, an online crowd sourcing website that encourages people from all over the world to donate to worthy causes in exchange for exclusive gifts or offerings from the fundraisers. So far, after launching the project two days ago, Changfu has already raised $1,705, and he has until the 22 of June to reach his goal. Some of the available “thank you for donating” gifts for donating to Ricki’s Promise are two VIP seats to the films premiere on November 23 in Pennsylvania, an advanced signed DVD copy of Ricki’s Promise with bonus features, and even a dinner with Ricki, her parents, and a member of the film crew.
We wish Changfu the best of luck with this very exciting project and we look forward to seeing the completed film!
Read more about Ricki’s Promise at www.rickispromise.com
To donate to the film, visit their Kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1242140/rickis-promise
Recently, Brown University showed our documentary to a room full of parents of children adopted from China. We were proud to work with our educational distributor, McNabb Connolly, to be able to sponsor the screening for this fundraising student group.
The response from the group was enthusiastic! Wrote Stephanie Guang, Family Outreach Coordinator for China Care, “The parents at China Care absolutely loved the screening. A lot of them had heard very good things about the film but were unable to find a copy – so this was perfect. It prompted a lot of discussion after about bicultural identity and what it means for their kids. Thank you again on behalf of all of ChinaCare for your help!”
China Care Brown was established in 2004 to address the plight of China’s special-needs orphans. The completely student run organization works by raising funds and awareness for the China Care Foundation to help better the lives of orphaned children still in China, particularly those needing surgeries. Starting in 2011, the completely student run organization now donates to Half the Sky Foundation to continue its mission to fund Chinese orphan surgeries. China Care Brown has donated over $86,000 and has funded 41 orphan surgeries since 2005. In addition, China Care Brown has a strong home component that connects Brown University students with Chinese adoptees in the local Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts area through cultural programs and activities.
If you’d like to screen our film for a special fundraising event for orphans or those in need in China, let us know! We’ll do our best to help make it happen.
Site for Girls Adopted from China to Share Their Stories: International Daughters of China Relaunches Its Website
By Sophia Loffreda
Ainslie Winter has had this idea brewing in her mind for some time. Herself the mother of two adopted girls from China, she wanted to share a message, via the internet, with Chinese women and men who had given up their daughters for adoption. Very simply, she wanted to let them know that the girls were all right… and not just all right, but thriving. What began as a possible hard cover book, soon blossomed into her newly re-launched blog, International Daughters of China.
The well-organized site is decorated with pink flowers against a green swirly background, welcoming parents and mostly younger girls to explore. Although it has yet to be translated into Mandarin, Ainslie says she already has a translator in the wings and will go about the task once submissions are more numerous. She is also meeting with the Chinese Consulate this spring, to guarantee that her site won’t be blocked by Chinese internet restrictions. If not, the likelihood that birth parents will be able to read the English stories would not be very high.
But the greater issue so far has been getting adopted girls to submit their stories. Ainslie would like the pages to quickly fill up, so that the website can soon be a more publicly known forum for both the inquisitive minds of adopted girls and their birth parents. During the few months between her original launch in September and the re-launch last week, on Chinese New Year, the submissions page was empty apart from a write-up from each of Ainslie’s two daughters Molly and Meigan. Her husband and her friends wanted her to move on. “They said things like ‘It’s alright, it was a nice idea, you tried!’ ”, she told us.
When we spoke to Ainslie two weeks ago, she was still determined to send out the message she had decided on when her website was initially launched. After thinking about the project and her call for submissions over the holidays, she realized that her approach wasn’t quite right. Her lack of participants wasn’t due to a lack of trying (on average, she was emailing about 20 people a day through the organization FCC or Families for Children from China). It was just that the guidelines she initially started off with were “too cumbersome, rigid, too structured”, she says, and perhaps worrisome in terms of privacy. Now, instead of asking for a very specifically structured letter containing the girl’s birthplace, orphanage, baby picture, and Chinese name, friends and family can submit a letter about an adopted Chinese girl, along with a picture (if they so choose). All submissions will be posted on International Daughters of China, whether they are anonymous or not. The stories would ideally only come from the girls themselves, talking about their current interests and lives, but Winter thinks opening the call also to friends and family of adoptees may be a better way to get the ball rolling. It seems to be working- last week she received her first new submission.
As an adopted child (Ainslie and her twin sister were both adopted in Edmonton when they were young), she knows the importance of expressing birth parent curiosity or even just talking about the affect of adoption. “I know that the stuff is inside,” she says, “whether you want to talk about it or not.”
Special Screening and Discussion: Families with Children from Asia Midwest hosts, with Social Worker Elana Meesun Schuster
Organized by Families with Children Adopted from Asia-Midwest, chapter president Jena Martin chose a unique format: she invited Elana Meesun Schuster, a social worker and counselor with expertise in the adoption community to lead a discussion after the movie for the children and teens in attendance. Ms. Schuster, herself a transracial adoptee, has extensive experience providing support to children and families across the adoption constellation.
The event will start with a screening of our hour-long movie, chronicling the journey of Vivian, a 15 year old adoptee from North America as she returns to China’s southern Jiangxi Province. There she meets Shumin Zhu, a fourteen-year-old girl who was also abandoned as an infant, but adopted by a couple in China. Vivian and Shumin compare their lives and discover surprising similarities and differences.
Ms. Martin wanted to show The Invisible Red Thread because of the topics it raises. She says culturally relevant and educational content for children 10 years of age and older is more and more difficult to come by. However, she didn’t want to just raise topics like adoption, identity, and belonging without fully discussing them with the young audience. While kids in attendance are given a private forum with Ms. Schuster to discuss issues raised by the film in an open and neutral environment, parents will be encouraged to chat amongst themselves in the outer lobby area. The important factor to Martin and the FCA-Midwest is educating, socializing, and getting the community to share through activities like this one. “I think our kids have a unique journey,” she says, “it’s important to have that support.”
There is a non-refundable minimum donation per family of $7 to offset the costs of the therapist-led discussion. This film is appropriate for ages 10 and up at parental discretion and adults without children in attendance are equally welcome.
For more info about the event or to register: visit http://www.fcamidwest.com/calendar?eventId=793804&EventViewMode=EventDetails
Are you interested in setting up a similar screening in your community? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
On November 15, 2013 news was finally confirmed that China’s One-Child Policy was no more.
With the interest of our Invisible Red Thread blog readers in mind, we wanted to explore how this recent decision may impact those who still hope to adopt from China. The reactions to the long-awaited change have been mainly enthusiastic. Dr. Changfu Chang, award-winning documentary filmmaker and part of The Invisible Red Thread’s creative team, even posted a celebratory message on his personal Facebook page. “As of November 15 the controversial 33-year-old one-child policy is eased, and has been de facto abolished!” he wrote. However the news can also be misleading – not to mention that it might be accompanied by another slew of long-term repercussions for China.
What exactly does the new policy allow for?
The simplified version is that a couple with one person from a one-child family can now have two children. Any more than 2 children per family is still a violation of national policy.
Of course, no policy is that straight forward. The official Deputy Director of the government’s Family Planning Commission reinforced the fact that the new policy is simply a relaxation of the current stance where a second child is allowed if both husband and wife were from a one-child family (as opposed to now needing only one person out of the two). After five years of research, the government’s goal is to address various social issues (population aging, labor force shortage, etc), to increase the number of projected births (while keeping the population under the peak of 1.5 billion by 2013), and to keep an eye on the sustainability of their resources if there is a sudden jump in second-child births. To control the possible hike, the second-child permit will be issued on a “seniority” basis; meaning older couples that already have a child get first priority.
What does this mean for adoptive parents and China’s popularity on the international adoption scene?
There are obvious positive effects of the policy, such as a more balanced male-female ratio, a decrease in forced sterilization and illegal abortions, as well as an easy solution to the problem of China’s aging workforce. However, for adoptive parents outside of China, the adoption process is already longer and more emotionally straining than it was during China’s adoption boom in the 90s. What especially interested us was whether or not the current changes to the One Child Policy mean that even less Chinese babies will be available for adoption by non-Chinese parents?
According to Forbes.com, the changes to the international adoption scene will be less drastic than we think. “The policy has always seemed more universal than it really is. Only just over a third of families are restricted to one child.” In fact, as of 2012, the percentage of parents still obligated to follow the policy of one-child per family was only around 36 percent. The reason is because there are already a large number of exceptions made to the policy for government officials, elites, residents of rural areas, and families where the first child was a girl.
Not to mention that Chinese couples now believe having only one child is the ideal scenario since apartments, healthcare and schooling are expensive. In a recent interview on NPR News’ “Tell Me More”, international adoption experts discussed a questionnaire sent out to Chinese micro-bloggers after the policy change become official. The response was that “especially in urban centers, the cost of raising a child would all deter them from considering having a second child, even if it was allowed by the government.”
No one knows what will happen as a result of the change, but there is undoubtedly still a demand for adoptive parents. The policy will most likely take a back seat to other pressing realities, such as increased paperwork and complicated international regulations. Canada adoption agencies are beginning to face more and more difficult procedures, meaning higher annual fees for parents using their services. The Globe and Mail states that Citizenship and Immigration Canada estimates the current cost of completing an adoption in Canada to be anywhere from $35,000 to $45,000. This might explain why the number of international adoptions is in decline. There were 1,968 international adoptions in 2010, which is around 160 less international adoptions than in 2009 and around 200 less than in 2003.
More Chinese families like Shumin Zhu’s from The Invisible Red Thread, are adopting babies within China. According to CNN and statistics from China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, the demand is there. Especially now that the one child policy no longer applies, families with older children who have less interested in having a second biological child will look to adopt from Chinese orphanages and foster homes. “The number of children filling [China’s] orphanages is climbing – rising to 92,000 in 2011, almost a 50% rise from 2004.”
If there are more adoptions of Chinese babies from Chinese couples, sources foresee a shift in the prioritizing of Chinese special needs babies, children with medical conditions and older children for transnational adoptions. (As a side note, the no-adoption list of countries that are now saying no to international adoptions because of complex political agreements now includes Haiti, Guatemala, Cambodia, Nepal.)
As a result, the wait for a healthy baby can be anywhere from five to 15 years, and the conditions are extremely strict. China will not accept single parents, obese parents, same-sex couples, or families with a poor medical history.
So the elimination of the One Child policy may well have an affect on China’s population, but it is not the only factor affecting the changing face of the international adoption scene. China remains the number one source of adoptive children according to CNN.com, with Ethiopia and Russia coming in second and third respectively. But what has long been a legacy of newborn girls needing a home may be changing.
Article by: Sophia Loffreda
To read more on the one-child policy, check out our sources below:
Know a friend or family member who is hoping to adopt or has adopted? With holiday cheer in our hearts, we’ve created a list of possible gift ideas for every adoptive family on your list. From touching novels to unique jewelry to thought-provoking bumper stickers and more, there are many great options to choose from!
Who doesn’t love getting a great book to read, accompanied by nestling in your pajamas and sipping hot chocolate to ward off winter? Take a look at these page-turners from Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Adoption” list.
I Wished for You: An Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond – This charming and endearing story with sweet watercolor illustrations is a great lap book that affirms how love is what truly makes a family.
Will You Love Me by Cathy Glass – The story of the best-selling author’s adoptive daughter Lucy, and how the two grew from being strangers to mother and daughter. Available in paperback and in Kindle format for those with eBook readers!
The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine – This handbook is one of the top-rated resources for adoptive parents or parents-to-be, regardless of the background of the child. What makes the book stand out is the authority from which the co-authors speak – Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross are director and co-directors of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, and experts in the field.
My Family, My Journey: A Baby Book for Adoptive Families by Zoe Francesca – A keepsake album specifically designed for the adoptive family and all of their memories. The book has an interior pocket to store important documents, pages to fill in your family tree, over 50 stickers to decorate with, and special pages to fill in family milestones. A great gift for new families or just for families who want a special place to keep their story.
For Family Viewing
The holidays and movie watching go hand-in-hand, so why not gift a movie that they can enjoy on a cold winter’s day?
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Hitting the stores just in time for Christmas, kids ages 3 and older will watch and re-watch this hilarious animated story of a caring single father raising 3 girls, probably until they wear out the DVD.
For the under 12 set: try the beloved classic musical about a loveable young girl and her quest to find a family, based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” As a bonus, the movie’s modern-day remake is currently being produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith. And if your gift recipient likes the original, take them to see the remake when it’s released in 2014.
For older teens, this film wittily yet thoughtfully deals with a teenage girl’s pregnancy and the important decision she must ultimately make. Caution: the main character does make a flippant remark about adoption from China that might sting some viewers. The film with an Oscar-winning original screenplay oscillates between comedy and drama and there will be plenty to talk about with your teens, age 14 and older.
Our last DVD suggestion comes highly recommended. Okay… you caught us… it’s our own documentary, The Invisible Red Thread (2011). The movie explores fifteen year old international adoptee Vivian Lum’s journey with her adoptive father to connect with her own past and culture in China while meeting a 14-year old pen pal who was adopted locally, within China. An award-winning documentary, it would make a great gift for anyone looking to adopt or for adoptive families with children aged 10 and older. You can order it for home-viewing, for a school or institution, or even set-up a public viewing in your community. Check out this link for more info.
We’ve found two websites offering personalized adoption ornaments that would spruce up any Christmas tree.
1) Born in Our Heart, a website created by two loving parents who adopted their daughter last year. The ornaments range from 8$ to 16$. Our favourite is the Chinese Panda Adoption Ornament, made through the Chinese art of paper cutting.
2) Many Hearts One Beat, which has a lovely Crystal Snowflake Ornament for $30. You can have it inscribed with one of 5 adoption-related verses, such as “The journey of many hearts now beats as one.”
Driving Home A Message
Is there someone on your Xmas list who gets a kick out of a good bumper sticker? Or maybe they’re in need of some laptop case decoration? We love these stickers from Zazzle.ca, as a way to get people talking about adoption everyday.
We can’t think of many things more adorable than matching cups, tracing the trajectory of your child’s journey from their birthplace to your home. These hand-made gifts will warm your heart almost as quickly as a good cup of tea. The best part is, you can make them yourself! Don’t be intimidated by the glossy finish, all you need are two cheap mugs (for best results, use unfired mugs), a cut-out of both countries or provinces/states, a sharpie, some hobby store spray-on acrylic, and an oven to bake the mugs in, once you’re done decorating. Here’s the inspiration for the project from TrueWhit. We found some easy steps you can follow on Lifehacker.com.
If you’re not DIY-inclined or love the idea but want to leave the hard work, while supporting an artisan, go buy a set from GreySkiesBlue’s Etsy shop (She’s the one who came up with the idea, in the first place)!
For Jewelry Lovers
Jewelry may seem like a common gift, but these necklaces are something different. Hand-made and stamped with the name of your choosing, these beautiful sterling silver necklaces are thoughtful and casual enough to wear, everyday. Order the “I searched the whole world for you” necklace or any of Chain Link Jewelry Designs other charms on Etsy.com. They go for around 50$ each, and can be shipped worldwide.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving frenzy, above all, remember to pause to enjoy the gifts of love and family, this holiday season!
This blog post written by Sophia Loffreda