He is a monk, but he routinely interacts with women. He is not allowed to marry or have children, but is a “father” to more than 400 children. He has saved many lives, but has been given a hard time by the authorities.
The 47-year-old monk grew up in the city of Nantong, in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. Before becoming a monk, his secular name was Wu Bing, and he was a successful small-business owner who also used to engage in international trade. Divorced in 2007, he became a monk in 2011 and was given the Buddhist name Dao Lu.
After becoming a monk, Dao Lu noticed that most of the requests the monastery received for the ritual of “freeing the souls of the deceased” came from women for their aborted children, which puzzled him. How could these women bear to abort an unborn child?
One evening in 2012, after all visitors had left the temple, Dao Lu was about to close the mountain gate when a young woman insisted on entering the temple to perform a ritual for her baby. It turned out that she was pregnant, and she was going to have an abortion after completing the ritual.
Buddhism believes that abortion is an act of killing that incurs a huge amount of karma, and saving people’s lives is an act of compassion. No matter how hard Dao Lu tried to persuade her, the woman said desperately, “What can I do? My family won’t agree to me giving birth to the baby. I have nowhere to go, and no one can help me.”
It turned out that the woman was a college student whose ex-boyfriend wasn’t serious about their relationship. He disappeared without a trace after she became pregnant. There was really no way out for her. It was then that Dao Lu realized that women choose to have abortions because of all kinds of unspeakable difficulties.
He felt sympathy for the young woman and persuaded her wholeheartedly and painstakingly not to abort the baby, promising to offer financial help. If the woman couldn’t take care of the baby after birth, he would help her raise the child.
Soon after, Dao Lu posted a message on the internet: “Anyone who is unintentionally pregnant and unwilling to have an abortion can come to me. I am willing to help.” He also included his contact information. With this, a new chapter of his life began.
Giving Single Moms a Chance
After that, Dao Lu received requests for help from women of all social classes—unmarried students, divorced women, single mothers. They all faced a dilemma after becoming pregnant, either because their marriage was in distress or because they were deceived in their relationship.
“Of all these women, there is no one who is not deceived, and some even lost all their money to their swindler partner,” Dao Lu said. “The woman who had the worst experience even mortgaged her apartment to help her boyfriend pay off a predatory loan. But in the end, that man disappeared when she was eight months into pregnancy.”
Dao Lu doesn’t ask the women about their private lives and deliberately keeps a distance from them, because he knows that each has a traumatic story. “The more you know, the more you would feel depressed and frustrated,” he said.
Dao Lu’s intention is very simple when trying to save the babies. “It is better to live than not to live. As long as there is life, there is a chance and there is hope,” he said.
At first, many women didn’t trust him—a stranger offering to provide for all the expenses of round-trip travel, delivering the baby in a hospital, and child support, with the only requirement being that they were willing to give birth to the child. These days, swindlers are everywhere, and it’s hard to find people who help others for free.
But once they get in touch with Dao Lu, they gradually come to trust him. He tells them that it’s their decision whether or not to have an abortion, but he’s more than willing to help if they have any difficulties.
The women who choose to deliver their baby need to sign a power of attorney document, promising that they willingly hand their child to Dao Lu, who will take care of the child until he or she is 18 years old. Dao Lu will bear all the expenses for child care. If there is an accident or death, he won’t be held accountable. Mothers can visit their children at any time. They can also take their children back at any time once they are capable of raising them.
This power of attorney gives the mothers one more option when they are most helpless.
At first, Dao Lu arranged to have these women go to a monastery in another province, where there was a place dedicated to helping babies. But the manpower and resources of the monastery became depleted, so Dao Lu returned to his hometown in Nantong and got personally involved in every step.
He rented some cottages to help accommodate the mothers-to-be. As a former CEO, he has his own management style and methods.
After the pregnant women arrive in Nantong, they are first sent to a hospital for medical examination, to ensure the health of the fetus and also to avoid cross-infection of diseases, as several women may share a cottage or even a room. After moving into a cottage, they must also abide by certain rules, be a good roommate, and not cause trouble.
Dao Lu was thoughtful and meticulous in every aspect. He set up privacy requirements: Online shopping cannot be delivered directly to the place of residence, but can be delivered through temples; the location cannot be disclosed to the outside world; and photos of pregnant women and children cannot be leaked.
These rules aren’t without reason. There was once a pregnant woman shopping online and having the items delivered to the cottage. The courier saw several pregnant women through the crack of the door and heard the cry of a newborn. He turned around and called the police, suspecting that there was a gang involved in stealing and selling babies. Although the situation was later clarified, the location was also exposed. Dao Lu had to find a new location.
Some women have been turned away when they can’t prove themselves decent. One woman asked a volunteer in Dao Lu’s team if her child could be sold after birth. She was immediately refused any help. “We do not foster evil behavior,” Dao Lu said.
‘Father’ to Many Children
In 2014, Dao Lu dedicated his own house in Nantong to accommodate the pregnant women and children. It’s a three-story villa, originally reserved for his daughter to live in, that Dao Lu has renamed “Caring Cottage.”
Pregnant women who need help first recuperate in the Caring Cottage, then go to the hospital when it’s time to give birth. Dao Lu knows all the hospitals in Nantong, because he has visited them many times, and even the cleaning staff at the hospital remember this monk.
Hospitals require the mother-to-be to fill out a form on which the baby’s father’s name is recorded. Most pregnant women are reluctant to disclose this information and find the experience to be traumatic. Dao Lu had to write his name again and again in the “Father” column.
When they learn to speak, all of the children call Dao Lu “Dad.”
“I treat all of them as my own,” he said. “For a child’s growth, having a father makes his life complete.”
As a monk, Dao Lu lives in the temple most of the time, and returns to his hometown every now and then to visit the children. Each time he steps into the house, a group of children rush to the door excitedly yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” Dao Lu interacts lovingly and affectionately with each of them. There is laughter all over the house.
According to Dao Lu’s estimate, by the end of 2021, he had helped more than 400 pregnant women. That is to say, more than 400 children have called him “Dad.”
Of course, Dao Lu can’t do all this by himself. For newborn babies, he usually finds a local babysitter, one for each child, and pays the cost. After a child reaches the age of 3, he or she is brought back to the Caring Cottage. There are also long-term female volunteers who take care of the children inside the cottage.
This unusual “father” has long attracted the attention of outsiders. There are often well-intentioned people reporting him to the police, suspecting him of kidnapping and selling children. By now, the police know the truth of the situation. Each time someone reports a case of suspected “child trafficking” and mentions “that monk,” the police tell him there is nothing to worry about.
Most Mothers and Children Eventually Reunite
To Dao Lu’s relief, many of the children eventually return to their mothers’ arms, one after another.
One example is Liu Li (pseudonym), a woman helped by Dao Lu who gave birth to a lovely baby boy. Unable to bear to abandon her baby, Liu gathered the courage to tell her parents about the child. They gladly accepted this little life, and so she took the baby home with her.
There are also mothers who took their children back when they could afford it after a few years. According to Dao Lu, most of the children have been reunited with their mothers, and he now has only about 60 children. When the mothers take the children back, he doesn’t ask where they are going, as he feels he has fulfilled his mission of rescue.
Most of the women helped by Dao Lu are grateful that he provided a haven for them when they were at their most vulnerable. One mother once said that the birth of a child is a particularly complicated process, and the fact that Dao Lu chose this kind of charity shows his “great kindness.”
Single mothers may be common in Western countries, but in Chinese society, it has always been a taboo. “Women are weak, but mothers are strong. It takes a lot of courage for them to give birth to a child without being married. If you don’t help her, who else would you help?” Dao Lu said.
Adoption Not Allowed
In China, there are many infertile people who want to have a child. Some people, after hearing that Dao Lu has healthy children in his home, inquire through various channels and try to adopt one.
Some want to give money as a token of their appreciation, some inquire through acquaintances, some fly in from afar, and some vent their grievances to him. Dao Lu turns all of them away.
Some ask why Dao Lu doesn’t send these children to an orphanage. He says there are regulations involved. In China, orphanages are government-run and are only allowed to take in orphans, minors whose parents or guardians cannot be identified, and minors who have no means of support, while those whose biological parents cannot support them need a certificate of special hardship to be admitted.
The children that Dao Lu takes in have mothers, but they consider their children to be a secret and cannot reveal their identities to outsiders. As a result, the children can’t be given to an orphanage.
How Finances Are Managed
It’s not easy to do a good deed. The first step is to solve the problem of funding. Even though Dao Lu was once financially well-off, he was faced with such a massive outlay that his wealth was depleted over the years.
In 2018, Dao Lu did the math: The average yearly cost of rescuing a pregnant woman was around $1,900; the yearly cost of supporting a child was around $3,960 to $4,750, and now is more than $4,750, which covers a “bare minimum.”
Although Dao Lu’s temple had an income, it wasn’t much, and he had to start a WeChat-based e-commerce business. Having been a business owner, he managed it well.
Many kind-hearted people have come forward to donate to Dao Lu after learning about what he is doing. A volunteer with financial expertise helps to keep track of the donations. The bills are made public every month, and the use of money is also severely restricted.
The combination of these incomes basically keeps Dao Lu’s relief site afloat. He also keeps a year-round reserve in his account that he doesn’t touch unless he has to, just in case.
Household Registration Dilemma
The real headache for Dao Lu is not money, but how to register the children’s household. Since the Chinese communist regime still has a strict household registration system, one cannot go to school without a registered household, and a series of troubles can ensue.
If applying to register a household as a father, Dao Lu would have to provide proof of paternity. If the children were to follow their mothers, he would need to provide information about the birth mothers, but that would violate his promise to keep their names secret. So neither way worked.
According to the law, Dao Lu isn’t qualified to adopt abandoned babies, so he can’t register a household as an adoptive parent. In order to keep the children, he has to avoid the issue of “illegal adoption.” Thus, he has repeatedly claimed that the children aren’t abandoned, but are “in temporary foster care” since the mothers are unable to raise them, and he is helping a disadvantaged group.
But without a registered household, the children cannot have legal identities. Dao Lu made numerous phone calls and trips to government departments about this issue, but in the end, there was no solution. No government department could solve his problem. In this unprecedented civilian rescue, although Dao Lu has received moral support, he has no policy support.
After 10 years, the household registration problem still exists, and Dao Lu can do nothing about it. Fortunately, there are many Buddhists in China, and some of them run schools. After learning about the situation, they accepted the children into their schools. The problem of schooling is solved for the time being. What problems they may encounter in the future remain to be seen.
Survival in Dilemma
As Dao Lu’s fame grew, more and more pregnant women sought him out, and gossip from outsiders began to grow. Some people suspected that he was hunting for women and secretly fathering children; others accused him of being a “dandy” monk.
In response to this slander, Dao Lu simply laughs it off and doesn’t take it seriously, but the many rumors have affected his monastery membership. In August 2014, the abbot of the monastery advised him not to engage in outside charity activities without permission. The abbot said, “Such behavior is not in accordance with the law and temple rules, and may affect the entire temple.”
Dao Lu had no choice but to leave the monastery. He was also forced to terminate his “monk certificate,” which is the official certificate given to monks by the Chinese Communist Party to regulate religious officials. The lack of this certificate meant that he wasn’t officially recognized, and Dao Lu became a “false” monk.
In fact, the biggest pressure that Dao Lu has faced came from the authorities. From the very beginning, he has faced resistance from the local government. “It’s not doing the government any good. It’s showing their incompetence. People will say, ‘Look, even the government is not helping, yet this man is helping,’” Dao Lu said. Therefore, the more people he helped, the more embarrassed the local government officials felt.
After leaving the monastery, Dao Lu found another temple without an abbot in the area, Wan Shan Temple. However, the Nantong City Religious Bureau soon deemed the temple an illegal structure.
In 2017, three government departments in the area of the children’s home jointly issued a notice that Dao Lu’s status as a religious cleric hadn’t been documented by the religious affairs department, and that his actions in helping pregnant women raise their babies didn’t comply with current regulations.
“Is it wrong to help others?” he said. “Some of the mothers are only teenagers. How can they take care of [their children]?”
Later, all hospitals in Nantong City were notified by the health department that they were forbidden to accept pregnant women that he rescued. According to Dao Lu, a few years ago he helped a pregnant woman who had already dilated to “four fingers wide,” yet she was evicted from the hospital and temporarily transferred to a private hospital for delivery.
In order not to create an overt obstacle to his rescue work, Dao Lu had to go “underground.” He recruited some male volunteers to take the pregnant women to the hospital and act as “temporary fathers.” He passed on his experience to them, repeatedly reminding them to be resourceful and alert, and to learn to deal with all kinds of complicated situations.
Dao Lu hasn’t and will not stop his humanitarian work. He said he will continue to do it as long as abortion exists, even though he has encountered many difficulties.
A busy man, Dao Lu has more than 12,000 friends in his WeChat contacts. Rescuing pregnant women, communicating and coordinating, taking care of children, and running a business take up most of his life. What about cultivation? “This is cultivation,” he said. “Cultivation is in the process of working for a cause.”
Kane Zhang contributed to this report.