Yuan Lihai became a national figure overnight in China after her makeshift orphanage burned down in January, killing seven of her adopted children, many of whom had birth defects.
There are multiple theories for the rate of birth defects in China: one of them says it’s a consequence of massive environmental pollution.
Added to that is the one-child policy, which leads to the abandonment of children with defects, and girls.
Yuan stepped into the breach and has adopted over 100 abandoned children over 26 years, according to Chinese press reports; she was given a small grant from the government, and sold products on the street to help pay for raising the children.
She received little support from the state, however. The authorities almost charged her with “involuntary manslaughter” in the wake of the fire—though that was put on hold after an overwhelming show of support for her from the public.
Recently she also faced accusations for having over 20 houses—something that she denied, showing evidence online of owning very little indeed.
On a recent afternoon Yuan went to the Kaifeng Welfare House, where the remainder of the orphans she had were sent, and brought them some fruit, snacks, and donated clothes, according to a report in the Shanghai Morning Post. The children were delighted to see her; she held them and cried.
Her son, Du Peng, used to take the children outside to play during Chinese New Years; Yuan would also give them a bath, a haircut, and some firecrackers to play with, and cook their favorite foods. She said that though it was demanding work, she now misses it.
According to data published by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China now has 615,000 orphans, but less than 20 percent are adopted by official welfare institutions. Over 500,000 orphans are parented by relatives, other guardians, and nongovernmental organizations.
“We lived in a shack in front of the hospital entrance. Once, mother found an abandoned baby at the entrance of the hospital. The girl had cleft-lip, and mother’s heart softened and she took her home,” Yuan’s daughter Du Juan told the Morning Post. The baby girl was named Pan Le, and was among the earliest of Yuan’s adoptees.
After news of Yuan’s adoptions spread, people would send their babies to her home; or leave them on the front stoop, knock on the door, and run away.
Some of the children she adopted died—press reports indicate that of the 100 total, only 40 or 50 survived. Those that didn’t make it were simply buried, with no official record.
The lack of records led to some of the recent questioning and attacks on Yuan. But for a rural woman who didn’t complete primary school, Yuan simply thought: “Someone sent me the child; I have to keep it,” according to the interview.
Netizens pointed out that despite Yuan’s efforts to fill the vacuum in official policy, she received little support. The business newspaper 21st Century Business Herald collected some of the commentaries online.
Netizen fen1234 wrote: “I personally think that those who need to be detained should not be Yuan Lihai, but the malfeasant officials. Yuan did what the government is supposed to. Now she is in trouble and everyone just shoves the responsibility onto her, saying that she wanted to get an insurance payout, or she illegally adopted. Shame on these people.”
Another pointed out that the government knew about the orphanage for years, and took no action; yet when it caught fire, they took her in and almost prosecuted her. “They’re slow one minute, then fast the next minute. It makes me sob.”
Read the original Chinese article.
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