Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China

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The book introduction is available for download here.

It’s no secret that tens of thousands of Chinese children have been adopted by American parents and that Western aid organizations have invested in helping orphans in China—but why have Chinese authorities allowed this exchange, and what does it reveal about processes of globalization?

Countries that allow their vulnerable children to be cared for by outsiders are typically viewed as weaker global players. However, Leslie K. Wang argues that China has turned this notion on its head by outsourcing the care of its unwanted children to attract foreign resources and secure closer ties with Western nations. She demonstrates the two main ways that this “outsourced intimacy” operates as an ongoing transnational exchange: first, through the exportation of mostly healthy girls into Western homes via adoption, and second, through the subsequent importation of first-world actors, resources, and practices into orphanages to care for the mostly special needs youth left behind.

Outsourced Children reveals the different care standards offered in Chinese state-run orphanages that were aided by Western humanitarian organizations. Wang explains how such transnational partnerships place marginalized children squarely at the intersection of public and private spheres, state and civil society, and local and global agendas. While Western societies view childhood as an innocent time, unaffected by politics, this book explores how children both symbolize and influence national futures.

“Outsourced Children takes us into the world of ‘relinquished children’ in China. It offers insights into the role of state policy, global competition and transnational circuits in shaping the meanings and value of children within neoliberalism. This is a must-read book for anyone interested in childhood in the global era.”

Nazli Kibria, Boston University

“Wang’s compelling ethnography shows how state agendas, market imperatives, and conflicting visions of childcare held by Western do-gooders and Chinese caregivers create a transnational market in special needs children that serves different agendas. A caringly crafted, unsettling, yet humane account of how the one-child policy continues to remake our world.”

Susan Greenhalgh, Harvard University

“Outsourced Children is a provocative analysis of the global assemblages of care around children in Chinese orphanages. Drawing on a deep well of original fieldwork, Wang bring to life the ideologies, economic inequalities, and gendered and raced imaginaries that swirl around children at the intersections of ‘soft power’ and ‘outsourced intimacy.’”

Sara Dorow, University of Alberta