Adopted children discover China

Updated: 2012-07-04 14:06

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Adopted children discover China

Six-year-old Ying Li learns Chinese calligraphy with her adoptive mother, Cheryl Bonfils-Rasmussen from Texas, at the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption in Beijing on Tuesday. Wang Jing / China Daily

Learning to write the Chinese characters for "love" and "happiness" in a Beijing classroom was the first activity for a group of American families on a cultural tour of China on Tuesday.

But this was not a typical tour group, although the parents may have been born and raised in the United States, their children were born in China, before being adopted to be raised on the other side of the world.

Thomas Shuo Fahnle, 10, learned Chinese calligraphy and paper cutting with great interest at the cultural class, accompanied by his adoptive father David Charles Fahnle.

The boy, wearing a hearing aid, dipped his brush into black ink and then painted on blank paper following the teacher's instructions.

However, for the first three years' of his life, he could not hear at all, said his 58-year-old adoptive father.

The boy had being fostered by a child welfare institute in Beijing until he turned three when the single father adopted him in 2005. After seven surgeries he can now hear from both ears.

"I have been a teacher of deaf children for 36 years and I know this is the area I really know something about," Fahnle said. "When I chose him, I knew his medical history and knew what I could do both educationally and medically to help him to hear and improve his academic skills, and at the same time give him a caring and loving home."

Thomas kept showing his father his "masterpieces" from the class and received compliments and encouraging words in return.

The harmonious scene made it difficult to imagine he greeted his father "with violence" at their first meeting.

"I look so different from you guys (Chinese), so when I first visited him in the orphanage and tried to hold him in my arms, he cried and he spat at me and he tried to bite me. It took a while for him to trust me and get confident around me," Fahnle said.

He said he understood the boy's panicked reaction as he had been taken care of by different nursing staff as a baby and because there are many babies in an orphanage, "he never knew who he could call mom or dad, he never had his own toys, and nothing really was his".

"I believe the Chinese orphanage system has done wonderfully in delivering a nursing service but that cannot replace parenting," he said.

Fahnle said while it was difficult at first, the boy adapted to his new life in the US after a couple of months.

Some 130 American families with 200 adopted Chinese children are scheduled to spend three days in Beijing. Activities include a cultural class in the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption, which is in charge of overseas adoption affairs, visiting tourist attractions such as the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall, and taking a bite of famous Peking Duck.

The group will then travel to three popular tourism cities of Xi'an, Chengdu and Guilin. The Chinese government will cover their travel expenses in China.

Some families also plan to visit the child welfare institutes where the adopted children used to live.

Cheryl Bonfils-Rasmussen from Texas said she plans to take her two daughters Mei Li, 9, and Ying Li, 6, to visit their Chinese "hometowns". The two girls were adopted from child welfare institutes in East China's Jiangsu province and Southwest China's Chongqing municipality.

Bonfils-Rasmussen said she was upfront to her daughters about their history and both of them feel curious about their past in China.

The mother also encourages her daughters to study Chinese language and culture in their daily life.

"They are very proud of their Chinese background. They perform Chinese dances at school at New Year festivals and other cultural events and when teachers want to talk about Chinese culture, they often ask the girls to participate and share their cultural heritage with the classroom."

Overseas families have adopted more than 100,000 Chinese children since the 1990s, according to the statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

"This tour is helpful to improve these children's confidence, because it made them feel the love of their motherland although their birth parents abandoned them for certain reasons," said Lily Nie, the founder and CEO of the Chinese Children Adoption International, a Colorado-based agency.

Zhang Shifeng, director of the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption said this kind of tour also gives the Chinese authorities a chance to see if the children adopted from China have been taken care of by their adoptive families.

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