What happened to the Chinese children brought to Britain for adoption in the 1960s?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Nearly 50 years later, Kate Hilpern finds out how they fared

Back in the 1960s, more than 100 children – mostly abandoned, mostly babies and mostly girls – were brought over from Hong Kong to be adopted by British families. The British colony simply couldn't cope with the number of refugees fleeing communist China, the upshot of which was struggling families and overcrowded orphanages. But only one of them is known to have traced her birth family.

"I didn't even think of myself as Chinese when I was growing up," says Karen Moir, who is now 46 and lives in London. "When the boys at school used to dance around me making Kung Fu noises, part of me was quite attracted to it, but most of me thought, 'I don't know what on earth you're doing.'"

In fact, it was only when she was a teenager that Karen met anyone else of Chinese origin. "Even then, it was in Chinese restaurants. I'd dread them speaking to me in Cantonese because I wouldn't have a clue what they were talking about."

Years later, when Karen read a magazine article about another woman in her situation, she could hardly believe her luck. "I had grown up thinking I was the only one. At times, that had felt very isolating. I wrote to her and when we met, it was profound. We finished each other's sentences and we are still good friends."

Then, when Karen's job as a social worker led her to help people who had been adopted within the UK to search for their birth families, it got her thinking. "Very unusually for the group of us that was brought over here from Hong Kong, I didn't come from an orphanage, so I knew I was in with some hope."

Karen's adoptive dad was in the army, she explains, and they'd been sent to Hong Kong. "My birth father was the handyman for his block of flats, while my birth mother became their housekeeper. When my birth mother became pregnant with me, she asked my adoptive mum to take me with them back to England because she was already struggling with four young girls living in one room."

Karen wrote to the Hong Kong court that approved the adoption and quicker than she could have imagined, her birth parents were found. "I couldn't believe it. I was told they were over the moon that I'd traced them and would be happy for me to write to them, which I did and that's when I got my first letter back from one of my sisters. It transpired they had another girl, which initially made me quite envious, but I later learned that their situation was at its worst when I was born."

By the time Karen boarded the plane to Hong Kong to meet them three years later, she'd seen photos ("It was so wonderful to finally look like someone") and had a sense of them as a family ("hard-working, brave and close"). "They were all there waiting to meet me at the airport, full of tears. It was amazing, despite our language barriers. Having always wanted a brother or sister, I suddenly had five. Hong Kong itself became a special place for me and I've been back eight times since. The circle is completed for me now. Knowing who I am has made me more confident and certainly more content."

The other people adopted from China during the 1960s haven't been so lucky. "For the 86 per cent who weren't relinquished but abandoned, contact with birth families is a no-go area," explains Julia Feast, policy and research consultant for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, who has spent the last four years heading up a study of 72 of them, the findings of which are launched tomorrow. "In fact, our study found very few have even thought about tracing. Maybe it's a form of self-protection or perhaps it's simply an acceptance that the door is shut and they know that they won't find anything."

But even by Feast's own admission, that's not entirely true. "We discovered that most of the women had no idea that some information was kept, so as a result of the study we now have many more people going back to adoption agencies to ask to see their files. Finding birth families will be almost impossible, but even getting records that fill in some gaps can make them feel as though they have more of a history."

Chris Atkins, 50, who was abandoned as a baby in 1962, has managed to find the area of Hong Kong she's from, what it would have looked like at the time of her birth and the actual place she was found. "That has been very moving for me, not least because it became clear to me that my mother left me somewhere, knowing that the police would find me and that I'd be safe."

Tracing roots is not, however, the sole focus of the study, points out Feast. Indeed, it probably stands out most as being the only mid-life study of people who were adopted internationally from orphanages. "Many of the women started their lives in rooms with 29 other babies. We wanted to know what happens when such women are placed in families in other countries and cultures. What's their life like? Are they able to have good family relationships and do well educationally?"

Overall, the findings are positive, says Feast. "The majority have loving relationships with their adoptive families, although the message isn't that international adoption is plain sailing. Virtually all the women, who ranged from 42 to 53, experienced racism and some felt isolated at times. But despite all that, this group of people did much better than we predicted in terms of psychological and physical health, educationally and in life satisfaction and did just as well as people adopted domestically."

But perhaps the most touching aspect of the study is what the women themselves say about it. "'You've changed my life' has been the most common comment from the participants, many of whom had never met another Chinese adopted person until they took part," says Feast. "That's been very satisfying, powerful and moving to watch. Quite a lot told us they feel they've found their sisters and, in many ways, their family."

To order Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards – a mid-life follow-up study of women adopted from Hong Kong, contact BAAF Publications on 020 7421 2604 or visit baaf.org.uk

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices