Author: Meng, Ling
Title: Chinese customary adoption : birth control policy, family adoption triangle, and individual experience in contemporary rural China
Advisors: Siu, Kaxton (APSS)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2022
Subject: Adoption -- China
China -- Population policy
Families -- China
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: xiii, 256 pages : illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Due to the enforcement of one-child policy since the 1980s, customary adoption has become widespread in rural China as a family strategy to subvert state policies. Through the birth-control campaign, peasant couples would temporarily give their unplanned or unwanted children to relatives or friends so they could have another child. Most existing studies on this phenomenon were conducted by looking at China's population policies, but few studies have paid attention to the families and individuals involved in customary adoption.
Scholars have long pointed out that family is not only about blood relationships. Instead, the family is a concept subject to social construction and personal choice, and is characterized by fluidity, uncertainty, and reconfiguration. The emergence of customary adoption has, to some extent, enriched existing family patterns and relations, and can be employed to study change and continuity in contemporary Chinese families. Four different types of adoption triangles were identified from observing an adoptee's perception and closeness with their birth and adoptive families: birth family is more important (physiological); parenting is greater than childbirth (emotional); both families are equally important (harmonious); and the individual is more important than the family (independent). The main question of this study is: how and why family relations among adoptees, birth families and adoptive families differ despite being in the same sociocultural and institutional context? In other words, why do different types of relationships between individuals and families develop in similar structural contexts?
Based on empirical data obtained from interviews and fieldwork conducted in Jiangli County, Northern China between 2017 and 2018, this study argues that the family is no longer merely composed of fixed relationships. Instead, it is determined and chosen by individuals, based on mutual economic and emotional interactions with their families. The choices and decisions made by individuals are not spontaneous and arbitrary, but arise from interaction, negotiation, and compromise with related family members in a specific context. Ultimately, it is found that although confronted by structural constraints from institutions and cultural norms, individuals actively use strategies to cope with them rather than passively accept them. In exerting their agency, individuals continue to reshape and renegotiate their identities and family relations.
This study examines customary adoption at three different levels: a) local policy practice, b) family-family and family-individual interactions, and c) individual life experiences and agencies. Through these analyses, this research not only provides a more comprehensive explanation for the diversity of family relations, but also contributes to a better understanding of the complexity and dynamics in Chinese families.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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