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Chinese Girls Raised in America Find Their Identity


An American journalist who adopted a young Chinese girl 18 years ago is using her daughter's story to tell about abandoned children from China.

Maya Xia Ludtke, 19, was a baby when her birth parents left her in a small town outside Changzhou in the province of Jiangsu. Melissa Ludtke, an award-winning journalist for Sports Illustrated and Time magazines, brought Maya to her Massachusetts home in 1997.

Over the past two years, Ms. Ludtke has helped her daughter and another Chinese-born girl document their return to their rural home. Jennie Lytel-Sternberg, 19, was at the same orphanage as Maya and was adopted by another woman living in the same part of the U.S.

"This is a very different exploration," Ms. Ludtke told VOA Learning English. The two teenage girls returned to the town where they were born to understand "how their lives might have been different." Along the way the girls took photos and recorded videos of their meetings with the people from the area around Changzhou. "It was their journey, not mine," Ms. Ludtke said.

Jocelyn Ford, the former Beijing bureau chief for the U.S. National Public Radio's business show Marketplace, is Ms. Ludtke's partner on a project called Touching Home in China: In Search of Missing Girlhoods.

This project takes the photos and video collected by the girls to tell their story, and the stories of other girls like them. It is an electronic book written in six parts with many interactive tools that give extra information.

"I'm really trying to produce something with enduring value," Ms. Ludtke said.​

Throughout her career, Ms. Ludtke covered issues relating to women and girls around the world. The one-child policy was an attempt by the Chinese government to limit overpopulation. For the past several decades the government has punished parents who produce more than one child.

This has caused many parents to abandon children, especially girls. In Chinese society, male children are more likely to be able to get jobs that can support their families.

According to adoption expert Dr. Peter Selman of Newcastle University, over 120,000 Chinese children were adopted between 1992 and 2009. In the video when they first arrive in the town where they were abandoned -- Xiaxi -- Maya and Jennie seem shocked at how different their lives almost were.

"The town where we would've… grown up in... The people we probably would've met."

"Many, many healthy girls have been abandoned," Ms. Ludtke told VOA. She explained that these stories are rarely told in China. Now she is seeking to share these stories in American classrooms. The project recently received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to design classroom materials to be used with the electronic book.

I'm Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported and wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

The website for Touching Home in China is located here.

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Words in This Story

journalistn. a person who collects, writes, and edits news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

adopt v. to take a child of other parents legally as your own child

abandonedadj. left without needed protection or care

orphanagen. a place where children without parents can live and be cared for

bureaun. an office of a newspaper or magazine that is not the main office but is in an important city

interactiveadj. designed to respond to the actions or commands of a user

enduringadj. something that continues to exist in the same state or condition

grantn. an amount of money that is given to someone by a government, company, or organization to be used for a particular purpose

Now it’s your turn. Is adoption common in your country? Do you think children raised in two different cultures have difficult experiences? Let us know in the comments section.

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