HKAN 2023 Pre-Xmas Post-Thanksgiving Zoom Meeting
Date: Sunday 03 December 17.30-19.30 UK (2 hours)
Time: UK 17:30; San Francisco 09.30, Washington DC 12.30, HK 01.30
This was a successful zoom call managed by Sue and Debbie. It was lovely to catch up with all and a welcome to some new members to our group. It is hoped we can try and schedule another Zoom meeting around Chinese New Year so watch this space.
SUE PRESENTED THE FINDINGS FROM A SMALL SURVEY UNDERTAKEN BY JULIA FEAST ABOUT THE CHANGE IN LEVELS OF CURIOSITY FOLLOWING THE PUBLICATION Of THE BRITISH CHINESE ADOPTION STUDY IN 2013
During the 1960s, just over 100 children were sent to the UK via the International Social Services (ISS) UK Hong Kong Adoption Project and placed for adoption following publicity surrounding World Refugee Year. Placing these children for adoption was intended to provide them with a family life and to help reduce overcrowding in Hong Kong’s orphanages with the influx of refugees from China.
All but two of the children were girls and most were babies, although some were toddlers and a few of them were older when they were placed for adoption.
Between 2010-13 Julia Feast, along with her colleagues, Margaret Grant, Alan Rushton and John Simmonds, undertook a mid-life follow up research study of this group entitled the British Chinese Adoption Study (BCAS). The study sought to contact and follow up the 100 women. They located 99 of them through publicly available records, and 72 agreed to participate. The study explored the long-term outcomes for this group of ethnically Chinese girls, now women in middle age.
For further information about the study: BCASSummary2014.pdf (adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk)
The HK adoptees community was developed in parallel with the BAAF’s British Chinese Adoption Study (BCAS). The study played a pivotal role in helping bring together UK HK-adoptees mainly from the 1960’s & 1970’s. Hong Kong Adoptees Network (HKAN) has developed into a well-establishedcommunity that runs an international network of people who have also been adopted from Hong Kong:
In October 2021 a meeting of the Hong Kong Adoptees Network (HKAN) was held at the Foundling Museum. The HKAN has a wide membership and at this particular meeting it included 16 women who had participated in the British Chinese Adoption Study (BCAS).
BCAS was published in February 2013, and among the many areas of investigation was research about how curious the women were when deciding to find information about their origins, and to subsequently search for birth family members.
The study identified that compared to other adoption studies where curiosity levels were reported, most of the women in BCAS expressed significantly lower levels of curiosity. It was notable that one of the reasons for not searching for information and birth family was because most of the women had been ‘left to be found’ and at the time of the study they recounted that it would be an impossibility to search, as they had absolutely no information nor access to records relating to their origins. Hence, they did not have the same opportunities as afforded to their UK adopted counterparts who had been adopted within country, where records were available. The challenges were compared to that of the saying that it is ‘similar to finding a needle in a haystack’.
As one adopted woman described:
‘Well, the thing is, when you are told from dot that you were left on the doorsteps of the orphanage, it is very clear that you can’t find somebody. So, you don’t harbour those hopes.’
At the HKAN meeting the attendees gave Julia Feast their permission to conduct a short survey of the BCAS participants present to help find out if the women’s curiosity had altered since the study was published. This survey was undertaken independently whilst Julia was studying for a PhD, entitled Curiosity and Opportunities: The impact of accessing adoption information on adopted adults and the decision to search for birth relatives.
At the time of the original BCAS study, the majority had little opportunity to embark on a search for information about their origins and birth relative. The aim of the short questionnaire was to find out if and how curiosity levels about accessing adoption records and searching for birth relatives had changed in the previous 10 years.
All 16 women who were present and part of the BCAS study completed the questionnaire. There were 5 other women present who had also been adopted from Hong Kong, but they had not been part of the BCAS study. However, they also completed a similar questionnaire. The following summarises the key findings from the survey of the 16 participants who had taken part in the BCAS study which was published in 2013. It must be noted that this ‘snap- shot’ involved 16 of the 72 original participants (22%) who took part in the study so the findings can only be seen as a potential indication.
All but one woman reported that their curiosity levels had changed and heightened since the study.
Seven women had accessed adoption records prior to the study, and since then 6 more had done so. Three women had not accessed at the time of the study nor since.
With the advent of social media and easily available access to online resources such as Facebook, adopted people and birth relatives have greater potential for contacting one another. However, for 11 of the BCAS women the advances made in DNA and easier access to Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing (DTC-GT) had an impact and influenced their decision to take such a test in the hope that they might find birth relatives.
Although DTC-GT consumer testing is currently not widely used by the Chinese population, and therefore finding a match was still limited, nonetheless being tested gave them a new opportunity and some hope that they might now be able to find birth relatives and understand more about their genetic history. Eleven women had taken a DTC-GT, of whom two had found a half-sibling. The DNA companies that were used were mainly 23 you and me and Ancestry, with some being registered on both.
Taking part in the study had provided an opportunity for the women to come together and support and learn from one another about how they could resolve some of their information gaps. This demonstrates how technology, life stages, networks, and sharing with others can provide an impetus to make use of new opportunities.
Four women were also very keen to find out more about their origins whilst the same number were not, with the other 8 saying they were somewhat curious.
Some reasons for not wanting to find out more:
‘Even if I did know my birth parents’ background I still would not have tried to find them…….Perhaps if I hadn’t had a happy childhood, I would feel differently, but because I was such a good childhood, you know, what is the point?’
‘My adoptive mother always said there would be no chance of ever finding’
‘Concerned how it may be if my birth mother didn’t want to know about me and very content with adoptive family so not really interested’
‘Believed language would be a barrier. No concerns about upsetting adoptive family who would have supported me, but felt I had nothing missing in my life and no gaps to fill’
Ten women reported their views had changed whilst the remaining 6 said that they had not, mainly because they were just not interested (4), and for one other it was because it was not a viable option or was not specific. However, hearing about other women’s experiences and knowing that some had been successful in finding birth relatives or accessing information, and learning more about the circumstances of their adoption, appeared to enhance their curiosity needs.
‘Gathering original files and my ‘mug’ shot’
‘when I learnt that my birth mother hadn’t want to give me up I am now pursuing finding out more’
‘As so many others are searching and some successfully – this has piqued my curiosity’
There was exploration about how their situation had changed in relation to their curiosity levels and their decision to search for birth relatives. The developments in DNA testing and taking part in the study clearly had an impact on their levels of curiosity. This created new opportunities not just for the women themselves but also for their own children who may also express curiosity about their mother’s origins. This is demonstrated by the result of this enquiry as all (15) but one woman said that their curiosity had been heightened since the study.
The HKAN was officially formed during the course of the study and open to and actively involved people who had been adopted in similar circumstances, so it had a broader reach. From the positive comments this group has provided a valued source of support to these women. It has enabled them to feel less isolated:
‘Our shared experiences have been interesting, and I’ve found an affinity with previously total strangers’
‘Being invited to join the study gave me a reason to explore my past. I looked at my own beliefs and values and found that family mattered a lot. Thinking about my birth family was a new experience. At a distance of 50 years. It sparked a month-long trip overland across China and seeing myself through a new lens’.
It will be interesting to observe how the levels of the women’s curiosity continue to develop, or not, particularly if locating birth relatives through DNA testing and matching becomes easier when more Chinese people from Hong Kong use these media.
Some members of the HKAN group have said that having the support of one another has enabled them to develop a ‘sisterhood’ and that they have gained support from each other as they share similar beginnings, which has also helped them embrace their Chinese identities.
Many of the women have enquired whether another investigation could be undertaken to revisit the enquiry areas of the original study, such as their connection to Chinese culture and identity, as they have said that they would now provide very different answers to those reported in the original study. This could provide an opportunity to assess the changes in their thoughts and feelings, and a measure of the impact of learning about one another, and an outcome of the study.
Dr Julia Feast OBE, February 2022
The Survey Questions
The following are the questions asked in the survey and more detailed information about the responses received.
Question 1 Were you part of the BCAS =16
Question 2 Did you have thoughts about birth relatives at time of the study?
Often = 4 / Occasionally=5 / Rarely=5 / Never=2
Question 3 Have these changed?
Yes = 10/ No= 6
Question 4 How curious were you to find out about your origins at time of the study (10 years ago)?
Very = 4 / Somewhat = 8 / Not at all= 4
If you answered Not at all, what were the reasons for this?
Not interested = 4 / Not a viable option =1 / Other= 1 … If Other, please give reason
- My adoptive mother always said there would be no chance of ever finding
- Concerned how it may be if my birth mother didn’t want to know about me and very content with adoptive family so not really interested.
- Believed language would be a barrier. No concerns about upsetting adoptive family who would have supported me, but felt I had nothing missing in my life and no gaps to fill.
Question 6 Have your curiosity levels change since the study?
Yes= 15 / No=1
Question 7 If so how and why?
- Have started to find out more and when I learnt that my birth mother hadn’t want to give me up I am now pursuing finding out more
- As so many others are searching and some are successfully – this has piqued my curiosity
- My son is curious- see it as part of his heritage
- I have found a sister through 23 and me
- I have since visited HK 3 times and 2 visits to China
- Visiting HK, DNA testing – adoptees finding birth family
- Gathering original files and my ‘mug’ shot
- Listening and LT account pf searching and finding members of her birth family
- I made limited enquiries but when my adoptive parents fell ill I decided not to pursue it any further. However I am interested in maintaining links with the group as I love hearing others’ stories
- Still wonder about my background: frustrating it is to know I can’t take it any further
- Mainly curiosity
- When others particularly Americans started to find family
- Son is expressing interest
Question 8 Had you accessed your adoption records at the time of the study? Yes=7/ No = 9
Question 9 Have you accessed your adoption records since the time of the study? Yes = 6/ No= 3
- Some in Hong Kong
- But had a fairly complete set of papers including birth certificate already
- Yes more about Hong Kong Social Services and International SS
- Only new information was that I was placed in St Christophers
Question 10 Have you taken any DNA tests?
Yes = 10 / No = 6
- One person who answered no said that although they hadn’t take a DNA test they would like to now
Question 10 a Please give names of test kits:
23 and me = 6, 23 and me plus ancestry = 3
Question 11 What prompted you to take a DNA test?
- I was given a test by my son for Xmas
- Julia Bell talk at HKAN gathering
- Long Lost Family programme
- Curiosity and see if I could get a first cousin, only got a few 3rd cousin but not got back. A few 4th and 5th cousins have replied but unaware of their family history- many went to the USA
- Interested after fellow adoptees from our group took then to identify their ethnicity – was pretty disappointed when mine came back 96% Chinese- felt really didn’t need a test to establish this
- Ancestry DNA was a present and I wanted to know if there were any people with similar background.
- Through contact of HK Adoptees
- Long Lost Family
Question 12 Anything else you would like to add?
‘Being invited to join the study gave me a reason to explore my past. I looked at my own beliefs and values and found that family mattered a lot. Thinking about my birth family was a new experience. At a distance of 50 years. It sparked a month-long trip overland across China, and seeing myself through a new lens.’
I feel happy and balanced in both parts of the world.’
‘……(The) original study and research – it enabled us adoptees to form a group and meet and form some lovely friendships.’
‘Our shared experiences have been interesting and I’ve found an affinity with previously total strangers.’
‘Thank you so much for your original concept and curiosity, Julia into the outcome of us all.’
‘Another study of the BCAS Group Now would be really interesting as we have more connections and some of us have gone back to HK and attended many HKAN Reunion Meetings’.
Results from the 5 non BCAS participants
- In answer to thinking about birth relatives 2 said never, 1 rarely, I occasionally and 1 often.
- 4 said that their curiosity level had changed over time but for one person it had not. The reasons given for the change in curiosity levels:
‘My life is in a better place. I’m a lot happier to consider this’.
‘more interested as my children and partner encouraged me, my adoptive’
parents passed away.
- 3 people had not accessed the adoption records but 2 had not,
- 4 people had taken a DNA test and 1 had not.