International network unites Chinese adoptees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am

Ask anyone who has been adopted where they are from and there might be a slight rolling of the eyes - a case of: do you want the short or the long story?

The answer from Jennifer Bao Yu Jue-Stueck, 30, is California. Specifically, southern California.

Jue-Stueck, who lives in Laguna Beach in the south, is a freelance writer and PhD candidate at Berkley studying race relations, ethnic identity and transnational adoption.

They are subjects that are personal to her. She is the birth daughter of a 16-year-old mother from Jiangsu province. Her first language was Putonghua. She was then adopted by a Caucasian father and a third-generation Chinese-American mother at the age of two.

'I feel very American, specifically very southern Californian. But it depends on who I'm with. There have been academic studies on how our identities are constantly shifting. I'm Asian-American but I'm also Chinese-American, so it is incredibly complex.'

Jue-Stueck began searching for a network for adopted Chinese in 2006 and could not find one. She could not join networks for Korean and Vietnamese adoptees as she was not of their ethnicity.

So she set up her own. Her website:, which is run by volunteers, has already sparked hundreds of responses as adopted Chinese around the world get in touch with one another.

Both Jue-Stueck and Briton Jessica Emmett, 26, were in Hong Kong last week for the city's first adoption festival. It was organised by the charity Mother's Choice, which over the past 21 years has helped thousands of young pregnant teenagers, many of whose pregnancies resulted in adoptions.

Emmett is a freelance artist who lives with her neuroscientist husband in England. She was the birth daughter of a Vietnamese refugee, but later adopted by British Caucasian parents. She spent the first 16 years of her life in Hong Kong.

She is searching for her birth mother, and has spoken to a social worker here who remembers her case.

Jue-Stueck, meanwhile, knows who her birth mother is but has not yet tried to locate her. She thinks her birth mother may have remarried and have other children, and she doesn't want to suddenly appear on her doorstep.

The two women say being able to link up over the internet with others who are also adopted has been a special experience, because though every adoptee's life is different, they share common experiences.

More than 70,000 ethnic Chinese in North America, most of them teenagers, are adopted. Of the 150,000 adopted around the world, 95 per cent are girls, says Jue-Stueck, the result of the mainland's one-child policy and its traditional preference for boys.

The largest group of adoptees is the estimated 240,000 ethnic Koreans who have been adopted following the Korean war in the 1950s.

'Being adopted has an impact at different stages of your life', says Jue-Stueck, which is why a network that could provide support and friendship is crucial. Some teenagers who have been adopted will gradually want to know where they are from.

That realisation hit her when she was quite young, when she was looking through a friend's baby album. 'I suddenly realised I would never know when I took my first step, when I spoke my first word. Some adoptees don't even know their correct date of birth.'

Jue-Stueck's Global Generations Incorporated, which includes her website for Chinese adoptees, is also a forum for global citizens everywhere.

'We have more than 700 members from 13 counties. It's about how we are global citizens, how we are connected to so many countries. Just in the United States there are 7 million adopted people. Six out of 10 people living in the US have a close link to adoption.'

She has met little girls in Ireland who are ethnically Chinese but speak with Irish accents; and there are those she met living in Scandinavia. In fact, there are adoptees all over the world.

Their stories are not just personal, but could also have a bearing on international relations, she says. How the United States interacts with China, for example, is of deep interest to her.

While the number of academic studies on adoption is growing, Jue-Stueck feels even more should be carried out. In 2006, she met Xinran Xue, author of The Good Women of China, who told her adopted girls were committing suicide.

'I was really not sure what to make of this. I had never heard of suicide being linked to adoption,' Jue-Stueck says.

Then she found Scandinavian research that indicated that transnational adoptees in Sweden, for example, had the highest rate of suicide. It should be noted though, she says, that Sweden has high rates of suicide. No such studies have been carried out in the US.

Certainly some - particularly transnational - adoptees can suffer from a sense of isolation, or being 'in between', she says. So having mentors and friends in a network to help them work through their identity would help them as global citizens.

While some struggle with their identity, says Emmett, many don't feel that way.

Society has become much more accustomed to adoption. Even though she has encountered some racism at school, Emmett says, attitudes towards adoption have become more tolerant in Britain. Hong Kong, where blood ties traditionally dictate relations, still has some ways to go in this respect.

Emmett's husband is Caucasian, as are her parents. Her father was a policeman, her mother an events organiser. Her sister - also adopted - is of Chinese ethnicity.

When Emmett told her parents in a phone call earlier this year that she would like to find out who her birth mother was, her parents became very upset, even though they had always encouraged her to do so. They called her back a few hours later to apologise.

This reaction is natural, says Emmett, who is close to her parents.

Parents often perceive it as a threat, says Jue-Stueck. But it isn't, she says, because adoptive parents are the ones who nurtured them. They are the ones the children have grown up with.

As the transnational adoptees, both women have had misunderstandings aplenty. 'Often I will be sitting in a restaurant with my parents and people think that my husband is my parents' child, not me,' Emmett says.

Jue-Stueck tells of how people mistake her father for her date, when they see him picking her up in a car. 'I just sat in the back of the car and said Dad a lot.'

A quest for roots

Name Jennifer Bao Yu Jue-Steuck

Birth mother Jiangsu native, 16

Adopted parents Caucasian father and third-generation American-Chinese mother

First language Putonghua

Place of residence Southern California

Name Jessica Emmett

Birth mother Vietnamese refugee

Adopted parents British Caucasian parents

Early life Spent first 16 years in Hong Kong

Place of residence England