Kay Ann Johnson's book documents the effects of China's one-child policy on the country and its people
China’s Hidden Children, by Kay Ann Johnson, professor of Asian studies and politics, was recently published by the Chicago University Press. In her book, subtitled Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy, Johnson assesses the effects of the one-child policy on China and its people.
The book has quickly attracted a number of positive reviews. Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Review of Books, writes that China’s Hidden Children “offers a searing, important, and eminently readable exploration of China’s one-child policy.” Publishers Weekly calls the book “important for challenging conventional assumptions that international adoption is the only option for ‘unwanted children.’” It goes on: “Johnson’s comprehensive survey humanizes a rural population often overlooked in debates over Chinese family planning policies.”
With more than 120,000 children, mostly baby girls, leaving China through international adoption over the 35 years since the policy was enacted, the trope of the “unwanted daughter” has circulated throughout Western culture. Johnson spent years researching this era and collecting firsthand accounts from parents who were forced to relinquish their children to the state. Their stories detail the fears and struggles the policy engendered, and spur conversations to debunk the myth of favoritism toward sons.
Johnson’s book, published in the aftermath of China’s announcement to overturn the one-child policy, exposes a side of the issue rarely seen in the West, in which the mandate of the policy is commonly portrayed as a desire of Chinese parents to have sons. Johnson’s collected accounts dispel this notion.
Throughout the book, Johnson addresses the danger of abandoned infants being sold into child trafficking and families’ desperate attempts to conceal out-of-plan children from the state. Tyrene White, the author of China’s Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People’s Republic, writes, “One cannot come away from this book without a much deeper understanding of the terrible human toll caused by the One-Child Policy. Johnson, the foremost authority on adoption and child abandonment in rural China, debunks the popular notion that birth parents viewed abandoned daughters as ‘throwaways’ at worst, second-class citizens at best . . . Johnson honors the stories of the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the relinquished daughters caught in the vortex with her sympathetic and sophisticated analysis.”
Johnson is the author of Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China (2004) and Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China (1983) and coauthored Chinese Village, Socialist State (1992). She has also written several articles. Professor Johnson's bio is available here.