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Tens of Thousands of Chinese Seek to Adopt Quake Orphans

Tens of thousands of families across China, eager to show their love, have overwhelmed local civil affairs authorities with telephone calls asking to adopt those orphaned by the worst earthquake since the founding of New China in 1949.

Last week's 8.0-magnitude earthquake centered in Wenchuan County in southwest China's Sichuan Province left more than 50,000 people dead, almost 30,000 missing, tens of thousands injured and more than 4.8 million homeless.

It also left thousands of children whose parents' whereabouts are unknown. The number of those definitely orphaned is relatively low so far, given the overall toll.

But the number of prospective parents is huge. In the past week, after pouring their love into the quake areas with donations of cash and relief supplies, Chinese people have turned their concern to the orphans.

"Our department had to answer up to 2,000 calls from around the country every day asking to adopt orphans," said Ye Lu, director of the Social Welfare Section of the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Department.

"Someone even dialed our hotlines at four o'clock in the morning," he said. "And many came to our office in person every day."

According to Ye, local authorities have identified at least 70 orphans and more than 4,000 homeless children whose parents have yet to be found, and they have been sheltered in welfare institutions in several cities.

"The number is changing every day, with the rise of the death toll or the identification of their parents," Ye said.

The government has told the public it has yet to start looking for new adoptive families, saying that disaster relief remains the top priority.

But that hasn't dissuaded some Chinese, some of whom have "harassed" the civil affairs officials, others of whom have posted messages online expressing ardent hopes to adopt an orphan.

In Beijing alone, more than 3,000 citizens have expressed interest, according to Wu Shimin, director of the Beijing Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau, who said local authorities will offer allowances for families that adopt quake orphans.

"As the capital, Beijing will do the best in this regard," he said.

Eager to show love

To 33-year-old Zhang Baoshou, a middle school teacher in Xingping, in the northwestern Shaanxi Province, adopting a 2-year-old orphan girl from the quake area was not merely talk.

"My wife, also a teacher, has been dialing the two hotlines provided by the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Department all day long in the past several days. But she never got through," he complained. "Too many people have the same idea."

Zhang said his mother was a native of Sichuan, which neighbors Shaanxi, and he has a special love for Sichuan.

"Seeing so many people dead in the devastating earthquake, I couldn't help but cry. I must do something besides donating money," he said.

His thoughts were echoed by his wife. The couple then consulted their 6-year-old boy.

"The little guy was excited to hear that. Now, he asks me every day 'when will my little sister come to our family? I want to go to kindergarten together with her'," Zhang said.

Under Chinese law, adoptive parents must be capable of rearing and educating the adoptee and be aged at least 35.

Zhang said although he's not a millionaire, it will be "no problem at all" to raise a second child.

"My parents also supported our decision. They have offered to take care of the children if we are too busy," he said.

But another requirement of the law is that adopters must be childless, which means Zhang's family doesn't qualify.

Zhang still held hopes that civil affairs authorities would be flexible.

"My wife and I are both teachers, which ensures an excellent family background," he said. "All my family members will give their warmest love to the child we adopt, that is the most important thing."

He said that his wife was writing an application letter to be mailed to the Sichuan Provincial Department of Civil Affairs, expressing their strong wishes to adopt.

"We have drafted a general plan to raise the child. We will take her to the best schools in our city and let her receive the best education," he said.

Tangshan modes reconsidered

In terms of the intensity and scope of destruction, the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake is believed to have surpassed the 1976 quake in Tangshan, northern Hebei Province, which claimed more than 240,000 lives. The 7.8-magnitude quake also left more than 4,200 homeless children. Nearly three-quarters of the homeless children were adopted by relatives or loving strangers.

Nearly a quarter were sheltered by government-run boarding schools for quake orphans and the rest were raised by large government enterprises.

Today, Chinese people have begun to reconsider the three Tangshan modes of orphan resettlement.

"I have been told by many of the grown-up orphans that the best thing is to be sheltered at orphan schools," said Su Youpo, director of the Hebei Provincial Earthquake Engineering Research Center, who had joined in rebuilding Tangshan and is friends with many Tangshan quake orphans.

"At orphan schools, the children felt the same as others because their experiences were almost the same, so they could maintain their mental equilibrium," he said.

Thirty-nine-year-old Zhou Jie, a Tangshan quake orphan who asked to be quoted under an alias, said that she had been adopted by her aunt in Beijing and then an uncle in a southern Chinese city.

"I had a feeling of estrangement even they treated me in a very nice way, just like their own daughter. I couldn't blend into their families," she said.

"Quake orphan" is a word Zhou has been trying to avoid being mentioned, just as many other Tangshan quake orphans, who even declined to give their names when donating money to the new quake survivors.

The orphan school was a successful mode, according to 66-year-old Yang Guifang, deputy head of the then Tangshan Yuhong School -- one of the government-run boarding schools for quake orphans.

"At an orphan school, or in a large family, similar experiences can help unite the children and help them get rid of their mental trauma in a relatively quick way," she said.

"But for introverted children, we'd better give them a home and let them feel the warmth of a family, because at schools with so many children, some may be neglected unintentionally," she added.

(Xinhua News Agency May 23, 2008)

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