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The thrills of motherhood: female citizenship and transnational adoption in David Ball's China Run/annelik korkusu: David Ball'un China run adli eserinde kadin vatandasligi ve uluslarustu evlat edinme.

Bu makale; kurtarma, insan haklari ve duygusal aile terimlerini Cinli bir cocugu evlat edinme baglaminda gelisen cagdas soylem cercevesinde ele almaktadir. Cozumlemeyi aile ideolojisi ile Amerikan liberal ozgurluk kurgusunun kesistigi noktaya yerlestirerek, Amerikan ailesinin evlat edinmeyle bicimlendirdigi temsili, daha genis bir yapi olan Amerikan liberalizminin bir uzantisi olarak, populer bir metin olan David Ball'un 2002 tarihli China Run adli romani araciligi ile arastirmaktayim. Cin'i bir kadin dusmanligi ve siddet alani olarak ve Amerika'yi haklarin uygun mekani olarak tanimlayan romanda ozellikle duyumculuk (sensationalism) ve duygusallik (sentimentalizm) gibi kulturel bicimlere odaklaniyorum. Bununla beraber, bu bicimlerin, beyaz anneyi bir kahraman ve Cinli cocukla kurdugu iliskiyle ve Cin devletine karsi hakliligini kanitlamasiyla aktif bir birey olarak gosterdigini ve boylelikle esit olmayan irk ve toplumsal cinsiyet iliskilerinin kurulmasina olanak sagladigini iddia ediyorum.

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the visibility and practice of transnational adoption. While transnational adoption to the U.S. has origins in the aftermath of global conflicts, especially World War II and the Korean War, since 1990 China has become the country of origin for the largest number of children adopted by Americans. Adoptions from China have far surpassed those from other "democratizing" nations in Eastern Europe and Latin America, from which transnational adoption to the U.S. has predominantly taken place since the early 1990s. The number of adoptions from China has risen from 61 in 1991, the year that the Chinese government passed an adoption law that allowed for international adoptions by childless single parents or couples over the age of 35, to 7,044 in 2004. The total number of adoptees from China now reaches about 48,000. (1)

This essay considers the representation of adoption from China and focuses on David Ball's 2002 novel China Run, a thriller which dramatizes adoption from China as the "rescue" of "abandoned" female orphans from China. This novel is representative of a broader discourse that situates practices of adoption within political debates surrounding human rights and U.S.-China geopolitical relations in the post-Cold War period. Its focus on issues of women's and children's human rights reflects the dimensions of gender and race in adoption from China: over 95% of the adoptees from China are of female, and the vast majority of U.S. adoptors are white. (2) Because markers of racial difference between parent and child are particularly visible, transnational adoption from China might be understood as particularly emblematic of the intersections of kinship, identity, and citizenship in the U.S. multicultural regime.

Written by an author who has himself adopted two girls from China, China Run dramatizes adoption as "rescue" of children from their violent fates in China. Though the premise of the novel is that a group of would-be adoptive parents flee with their children, the plot centrally focuses on the heroine Allison Turk, who leads them and is ultimately the only one who does manage to escape with her adopted daughter, Wen Li, and her stepson, Tyler, as her family formed through re-marriage and adoption is consolidated through the dramatic narrative. Their flight becomes a series of intrigues with "the Chinese" pursuing the precarious new American family. In the process of the fugitive flight, Allison discovers that the reason for the mysterious exchange of the children at the beginning of the novel is in fact an underground trade in children, in which girls are being sold as wives, or on the private adoption market, or to the international sex trade, or most lucrative of all, to private organ marketeers. In the end, Allison exposes the evil designs of the Chinese officials to sell orphans on illicit markets, and vindicates her actions and her motherhood. Ball's novel provides sensational scenes which focus on the sufferings of the bodies of Chinese orphans and dissidents. The casting of the white American as the heroine complicates the feeling of the audience for the corporeal suffering of the Chinese characters in the novel in that this relationship is always mediated through the figure of the sentimental heroine. In saving "her" child from the corrupt and threatening Chinese bureaucracy, Turk's heroism is tied to the domesticity of sentimental themes by highlighting the vindication and construction of U.S. domesticity abroad, and situating herself as the subject of rights.

In the midst of the drama, Turk, reveals a government cover-up of a plot to trade the bodies of the orphans in various human trafficking schemes. Ball's novel attempts to resolve the complexities of the contexts in which adoption from China takes place into binaries of good and evil and relies on intense emotions that dramatize intimate affective relations. This narrative locates the intersections of liberal ideology, the struggle for human rights, and the sentimentality of the narrative in order to foreground the production of the U.S. as a space of freedom. I argue that the novel re- deploys the nineteenth-century cultural modes of sentimentalism and sensationalism in this twenty-first century adoption plot to represent the resolution of the contradictions of racial difference and the racialized dimensions of the U.S.-China cultural and geopolitical relationship in the "American Chinese" family. Foregrounding Ball's use of sentimental and sensational narrative modes will allow for an examination of how the themes of domesticity and family inform the novel's understanding of the relationship between the U.S. as liberal nation and the foreign space of China. (3)

The large number of Chinese girls available for Western adoptions is commonly attributed to China's so-called "one-child per couple" policy. The "one-child" policy became prominent in the U.S. as one of several human rights violations that were widely debated in politics and media during the 1990s as signs of China's unsuitability for membership in a Western ethical community. (4) In 1979, the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with China and even granted China Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status. However, MFN status needed to be renewed annually in accordance with the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which in 1972 linked normal trade relations to emigration and human rights policies of Communist or formerly Communist nations. The incidents at Tian'anmen Square in 1989 brought into crisis the linkage of human rights and U.S. economic ties to China, stirring heated Congressional debate over whether withholding MFN status would effectively bring about changes in human rights practices in China or whether expanded economic relations would, in the long term, effect more freedoms and improvements in human rights in China.

The relevance of this popular rhetoric to discourses on adoption from China has to do with gender, in that the large numbers of orphaned girls in China are commonly attributed to the privileging of sons in "traditional" Chinese culture. This misogyny supposedly manifests in this contemporary family planning policy, instituted in 1979 as a control on the rapid population growth following the Communist takeover in 1949, and revised with China's changing modernization goals. (5) This logic understands adoption to be a direct intervention into gendered human rights violations. However, the very low numbers of asylum cases based on flight from reproductive rights violations in China that are approved in the West provide a stark contrast to the large numbers of girls adopted by Western parents.

This essay addresses the particular human rights logic in adoption that is narrated in David Ball's China Run to illuminate this contradiction. I argue that the novel portrays adoption as a form of human rights action based in bourgeois domesticity that "saves" children through family formation and migration to the U.S. The story of family as a structure that has power to "save" the child specifically privileges the American mother as the agent of rescue. In the adoption scenario of China Run, the white mother's feeling for the Chinese baby demonstrates her humanity, such that sentiment becomes the signifier of humanity and of the liberal structure itself. In Ball's novel, the logic of adoption as rescue identifies China as other to U.S. humanitarianism and liberalism as the Chinese state reveals its illiberal basis in its foreclosure of individual rights, here equated with freedom. The novel's narrative of transnational adoption from China may appear to uphold the promise of U.S. liberalism that all individuals may have access to equality and rights without differentiation by race, or national origin, or gender. Indeed, Ball accepts that liberalism protects the rights of the abstract individual and that the state assumes the power to protect the equality of its individual subjects. In the novel, the American mother performs liberal citizenship through her womanhood and her freedom to act as a liberal subject through her rescue of herself and others in the foreign setting of China.

The mother's demonstration of American liberalism also invokes the spatialization of modernity and culture, as China becomes a space culturally defined through gendered violations of human rights, in contrast to the portrayal of the U.S. as a space defined by liberal freedoms. In a sense, U.S. judgments of China's suitability for expanded trade relations can also be understood as a judgment of China's suitability for modernity. The focus on the treatment of women that results in the orphaned "lost daughters" suggests the vitality of a liberal discourse of identifying non- western nations as non-modern through their adherence to supposedly traditional misogyny. Leti Volpp has written about the dangers of liberal feminist claims that Western minority or Third World cultures are more sexist than Western liberal cultures and that construct gender subordination as "integral to their culture" (1185). Further, these discourses suggest that "only minority cultures are considered traditional, and made up of unchanging and longstanding practices that warrant submission to cultural dictates. Non-western people are assumed to be governed by cultural dictates, whereas the capacity to reason is thought to characterize the West" (1191).

In the transnational adoption narrative discussed in this essay, the danger lies not only in positing the "fact" of women's freedom from subordination in the U.S. as a sign of universality and modernity, against critiques of violence and mass abandonment of girls in China as a "cultural" trait, but in enabling a narrative of salvation that upholds U.S. claims of liberal equality. Such logic denies the roots of China's population control policies in modernity; as anthropologist Susan Greenhalgh argues, more so than simply evincing the coercion of women's bodies, the rationale driving China's population policy "has been about the nation's dreams of achieving wealth, power, and global position through selective absorption of Western science and technology"(355).

Sentimentalism, Sensationalism, and Human Rights

Understanding U.S. liberalism as a discourse that underwrites individual rights and transcends difference, this essay proposes that in Ball's novel the liberal subject is embodied through the genres of sentimentalism and sensationalism. Turning to the history of the cultural modes of sensationalism and sentimentalism in the U.S. helps to demonstrate how they operate together in this particular narrative of transnational Chinese adoption. These modes are effective in allowing the Chinese baby to be humanized and written into the U.S. and national body politic. Sentiment justifies 'saving' the babies in the sensationalized rescue narrative. Together the genres engage U.S. foreign policy discourse of human rights vis-a-vis China. In the novel, the Chinese characters and the nation are dehumanized because they lack a concept of and a commitment to human rights. Adoption itself becomes a form of human rights activism that, in the novel, substitutes for internationally-sanctioned human rights action.

Sentimental rhetoric and figures are re-deployed in China Run through the staging of scenes of pathos and action that establish liberal womanhood (and motherhood) on the side of universal "good." Lauren Berlant has identified U.S. liberal sentimentality as a particular subset of sentimentalism that structures a relationship between affect and intimacy, and U.S. citizenship and national life. Berlant writes that liberal sentimentalism has "been conventionally deployed to bind persons to the nation through a universalist rhetoric not of citizenship per se but of the capacity for suffering and trauma at the citizen's core" (636). Sentimentality characterizes the ways in which "different types of persons" are interpellated into the U.S nation on equal terms as feeling subjects, and are in fact humanized in this process; persons are "hailed by the universalist (but really national icon) of the person who loves, suffers, and desires to survive the obstacles that bind her or him to history" that is found in the sentimental aesthetic (637). Sentimental politics then presuppose the universality of private feeling, as the domain of the political and public is rendered through private, affective terms. As Berlant puts it, "Sentimental politics are being performed whenever putatively suprapolitical affects or affect-saturated institutions (like the nation and family) are proposed as universalist solutions to structural racial, sexual, or intercultural antagonism" (638). However, this appeal to abstract individualism and universality remains "unfinished," as the desire to reimagine the real world in terms of transcendental and universal identifications of feeling cannot suppress contradictions of "relative privilege within the sentimental field of the universal human," which continue to reappear "along axes of apparent national nonuniversality - in zones of class, race, and gender" (643).

While sentimentalism emerged as an eighteenth and nineteenth century structure of feeling in England and the U.S., the historical manifestation of sentimentalism that is most significant here is the mid-nineteenth-century sentimental-domestic novel. These novels, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, represented a convergence of feminist and abolitionist discourses in as the call for abolition was commonly imbricated within the ideology of separate spheres and was also associated with a middle class, female readership of novels. According to Shirley Samuels, nineteenth century sentimentality was a "set of cultural practices designed to evoke a certain form of emotional response, usually empathy, in the reader or viewer," that functioned through affect and identification that might forge connections across gendered, race and class boundaries (4). In the experience of emotional response, the reader or viewer is produced as a sentimental subject in the U.S. national body politic. Of particular interest in this essay is the centrality of domesticity and domestic scenes to the sentimental mode. Through a reliance on the affective power of the "home," nineteenth century sentimentalism was involved in a national project of "imagining the nation's bodies and the national body" (3).

The interdependence of the private and national domesticity in this earlier sentimental genre also structures Ball's novel. While the iconography of the home is not the major setting of the novel, it plays an important role as the anchor of the plot in that the plot turns on the white adoptive parent's need to complete the U.S. domestic family, as the Turk family home has been disrupted through a series of failed attempts to have a child, either biologically or through domestic adoption. The Chinese setting for most of the plot is portrayed through distinctly non-domestic, non-sentiment laden spaces, often outdoors, suggesting the absence of safe spaces in China. Indeed, the home lies at the mercy of the state, as the total subsumption of family and home into the state represents communist China's major difference from and moral inferiority to the U.S.

In China Run, sensationalism governs Chinese life with grave consequences. As Shelley Streeby argues, "sentimentalism generally emphasizes refinement and transcendence, whereas sensationalism emphasizes materiality and corporeality, even or especially to the point of thrilling and horrifying readers" (31). Streeby characterizes mid-nineteenth century sensational popular culture as having "combined thrills and terror; frequently showcased visual tableaux and action scenes rather than emphasizing domestic scenes and the interior, psychological development of rounded characters; aimed to provoke extreme embodied responses in the reader; and often lingered on the grotesque and the horrible" (30). Streeby demonstrates the importance of expanding critical attention to the body in the culture of sensation in the mid-nineteenth century U.S. to include not only working class bodies but also the politics of race and empire. She suggests that "urban scenes" and "foreign views," thematized a relation between city and empire within the context of the expanding boundaries of U.S. empire. Along these lines, the sensationalist mode in China Run underscores the suffering bodies of Chinese subjects. Such a portrayal might evoke a corporeal response in the American reader that situates her within U.S. liberal values and U.S.-China geopolitics and will perhaps move her to the act of "saving" the orphans.

Given the context of the novel's focus on the U.S. family as a structure that grants rights, American philosopher Richard Rorty's 1993 essay, "Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality" proposes an interesting interpreting of sentimentality as a means for achieving human rights. He assesses the shortcomings of a human rights foundationalism based on the "shared human attribute" of "rationality" that "supposedly 'grounds' morality" to prevent mass atrocities (116). Rorty defines the failure of philosophy to provide independent support for generalizations of human moral intuition, and of common rationality as a basis for a concept of universal human nature to create a universal moral behavior. He proposes a historically and culturally contingent morality that is relativistic rather than universal. Rorty takes up "human rights culture" to argue that the moral choices that separate human beings from animals are based only in the "historically contingent facts of the world, cultural facts" (116). He argues that there is no "ahistorical human nature" that is "relevant to our moral choices," and therefore, rather than looking for universalist human rights, human rights culture must be relativistic. Sentimentality allows for practical identifications across communities, such that people can "feel for each other" and thereby expand their idea of "who counts as a fellow human being," that is, who belongs in one's moral community. Human rights culture thus "seems to owe everything to hearing sad and sentimental stories" (119).

However, Rorty's examples of groups who could benefit from instantiating a humanity based in sentiment imply that his notion of relativism is problematic in its own ahistoricity, as he suggests that "sentimental education" would work to "get whites to be nicer to Blacks, males to females, Serbs to Muslims, or straights to gays" such that human rights culture would allow for sympathies across alterity (114). His notion of human rights based in relativism then serves to reinscribe a Eurocentric and patriarchal power structure that does not necessarily compel a common humanity but retains the volitional logic of inclusion into humanity and rights that has characterized power structures in the U.S. especially. In considering rights globally, Rorty's formulation relies on the maintenance of a division between enlightened and unenlightened nations and peoples that is bridged by the unidirectional expansion of rights. The reading of China Run that follows addresses the contradictions inherent to liberalism in narrating the U.S. as a global actor on the side of human rights. By focusing on the novel's deployment of the narrative modes of sensationalism and sentimentalism, this article critically interrogates the discursive site of Chinese transnational adoption through which the Western liberal subject is constituted and justified.

Running From China: The Sentimental Heroine and the Adoptee

Two strands of the adoption narrative that suggest the gendering of inclusion into liberal individualism are the gendered violations against girls represented in the institution and effects of the one-child policy in China and the benevolence of the white American woman in rescuing the girls into the U.S. bourgeois domestic family. In China Run, the adoption scenario takes place in a gendered private sphere that presumes the female children's ability to experience affective family bonds in the U.S. In this "privatization" of the China--U.S. encounter, the complex social, political, and economic terrain of the China--U.S. relation is reduced to site of private domesticity. The fictional narrative about the inclusion of Chinese girls and women into the U.S. family reveals the contradictions inherent in sentimental and sensational versions of the U.S. as an actor on the side of universal human rights in the global arena.

It is the maternal figure of the sentimental heroine that references the larger structure of liberal sentimentality in the U.S., for the nation's claim to freedom, rights, individuation, and liberal society is premised on the feeling subject, here, the mother. The reduction of liberal rights to the axis of family sentiment, that is, the freedom to form domestic, sentimentally held family relations, and indeed, the freedom to feel at all, defines U.S. liberalism against China's deficiencies in Ball's novel. The white woman performs her claim to U.S. liberal citizenship abroad, in her role in the adoption of the foreign Chinese other, and thus suggests U.S. liberalism's transnational reach. The adoption scenario represented in China Run harks back to the feminist and abolitionist use of sentimentalism in the nineteenth century, such that the white woman recalls the nineteenth-century sentimental heroine who becomes animated as a U.S. liberal subject against the "negro" slave.

In the novel, sentimentalism at the level of the private family reveals transformative potential and critique of human rights culture, as opposed to the public discourse available to state or business interests. The extreme violation of rights in China is sensationalized to draw attention to China as an enemy of sentiment. Yet, at the same time, Ball implicitly reveals that the U.S. state is incapable of recognizing the Chinese orphan as a liberal subject worthy of rights either. Whereas in the public discourse, mothers, as American citizens in China, are legible within human rights culture, in the realm of the sentimental mother-daughter bond, the child evokes pathos. It is her plight that stimulates the intrigue and action. For instance, after the group of American fugitives initially flee from the hotel, Allison calls the U.S. consulate in Shanghai for protection from a stolen cell phone. Speaking to a junior clerk, Allison hopes to request asylum for the children, for feeling that Wen Li is "[her] daughter" transforms the child into a particular individual, who should have the rights accorded an American. No longer a nameless Chinese other, Wen Li should have rights, including the right to family, rather than being a ward of the state, "stuck in an orphanage" (Ball, 61). The novel validates adoption in terms of inclusion within the domain of the family, rather than understanding adoption as a form of commodity exchange, a viewpoint represented by the clerk who advises Allison to "give her back and let them give you another baby" (61). Unlike the public domain of the legalistic rights regime, it is only within the private domain of family that the baby has value as a subject of rights.

Ball's novel posits the family as the exemplary site of human rights. While early in the novel, the family lies in tension with the U.S. state, by the end the U.S. is redeemed as the space that allows for its citizens to form family bonds. The novel conflates U.S. citizenship and the possibility for family formation as the right of U.S. citizens over and against the foreign Chinese threat. Part of this threat is the denial of "family" in China, as suggested by the existence of the "surplus" child. In this passage, Ball articulates the disjuncture between the official framing of the child as a "Chinese national" whom the Americans have "kidnapped," a framing based on a legal definition of the child's rights, and Allison's claim to the child as hers, for she feels that Wen Li is already "her daughter" (60). In response to the clerk's explanation that there must be "legal ... persecution" for Allison to have recourse to U.S. law, she argues that
   Wen Li was abandoned. They were all abandoned. Stuck in an
   orphanage for the rest of their lives. That's persecution of a
   sort, isn't it? I'm on your side here ... (but) you can't possibly
   hope to evade the authorities. This is China. It's a police state,
   Mrs. Turk ... Hell, (the Chinese) may even throw you in prison.
   They're not squeamish about that sort of thing. They're not
   sentimental, either. Break their laws and they'll make you
   pay ... Allison's heart sank ... She'd found a small-minded
   bureaucrat whose veins ran with regulations, not blood. (61-2)

Allison suggests that the prospect of allowing her "daughter" Wen Li to remain in an orphanage is a form of persecution, and with Wen Li standing in for "all" the abandoned girls in China, she contrasts life under the care of the Chinese state to the U.S. private family, defining the latter as the only desirable form of "life". The opposition between the state apparatus of China (and the U.S.) and the family is made clearer in their differentiation through sentiment, or "blood"; the state bureaucrat's body is metaphorically fed by "regulations," rather than the blood of humanity. As sentiment is what prompts Allison to flee with Wen Li, it is also the grounds on which the reader is called upon to feel for the female protagonist and her child. As people without sentiment, "the Chinese" may not be moved by feeling, but neither can the form of U.S. law allow for sentiment. However, by saying that he is "on (Allison's) side," the clerk articulates an opposition between the U.S. and China as nation-states, as does his naming of "the Chinese," which continues to invoke U.S. rhetoric toward enemy states.

A further implication of this passage is that the subject of rights in the novel is not the child but rather the white American woman abroad. As Allison Turk is the one who is threatened with being "(thrown) into prison", she is also the subject of the media coverage of the event, and the focus of concern for the international human rights activists. Weaving into the narrative "news reports" from CNN and the Reuters news service about the women as well as the subsequent international protests at Chinese embassies over their safety, Ball portrays an international political drama that emerges out of what Allison views as a moral and private act. Ball writes that the "American networks were full of the story, which had touched a raw national nerve" (183). The story of the adoptive parents has entered into a U.S. national consciousness, not through the conscious reasoning of Americans, but through a collective sensory experience that goes straight to the "nerve". However, the focus of concern in the U.S. and internationally is the legal endangerment of the women, with the children serving as foils for the agency of the U.S. women. Commenting on information released by a "Hong Kong-based rights watchdog group," the "White House ... calls for the immediate release of any prisoners on humanitarian grounds" and calls "for restraint, noting the protests that had turned violent outside the Chinese embassy in Paris" as "human rights demonstrators ... hurled vegetables at the embassy" (323). The reports make clear that what is of interest in the public protests and state responses is the legal treatment of the American citizens under an international human rights regime. The salient subjects of internationally recognized human rights are the American "parents" and not the adoptees, thus shifting attention from the adoptee, whose plight ostensibly drives the narrative, to the "parents" and the U.S. liberal family structure they represent. The parents are the only ones who view the child as a subject of human rights.

The relationship between U.S. state discourse, adoption, and sentimentalism in China Run is ambivalent. One can see the state attempting to claim sentimentality and family as its proper domain and the family privatized as distinct from the public domain of the state. Fred Pollard, whose sister Ruth is one of the fugitives, clarifies the state attempts to unify itself with the interests of the family. Emphasizing the linkages between international business and politics and human rights, Pollard states on CBS Evening News:
   The one-child policy is just another capricious violation of human
   rights ... The Chinese government's disregard for the sanctity of
   human life is long-standing. And now my sister and two other women
   have simply tried to rescue infants from the Chinese torture
   chambers, and the government has made them criminals ... When the
   Congress votes on MFN next month, I don't think the issues could be
   clearer. What is most important to our nation? Do we vote for
   morality, or money? God, or godlessness? Babies, or the butchers of
   Beijing? (183)

In Fred Pollard's position as both a U.S. Congressman and the sibling of one of the fugitive parents, the state and the family converge as ways of representing the U.S.--China relationship. The basis for moral action within both private and public realms in appeals to sentiment and morality heightens the distinction between good and evil in castigating the Chinese government and nation against the liberalism of the U.S.

Though privately Pollard does not support Ruth's decision to flee or to adopt from China at all, his public rhetoric expressed from an official state position reveals the power of appeals to moral and religious virtue in compelling public sentiment and swaying emotion for political action. Citing the plight of the women who are in turn saving "innocent children," Pollard holds up "family values" as a national trope through which to make legible the severity of China's long history of "disregard" for "human life" itself. To ignore such a violation of universal human rights can then only be evidence of cold blood, not dissimilar to China's criminalizing of sentiment, or to the rhetorical equation of "money," "godlessness," and "the butchers of Beijing." Against Rorty's utopian vision, here the novel deploys sentimentality exactly to represent China as un-enlightened, and to celebrate the human rights culture of the U.S. In fact, the comparison of U.S. and China posits a cultural and national relativism that is indexed through sentiment to maintain divisions. Here, sentimental modes of communication hardly encourage feeling "for each other" (Rorty, 119, emphasis in original). Indeed, the costs of China's desire to enter the free market betray the non-liberal basis of its modernity in this context.

Congressman Pollard's invocation of the "butchers of Beijing" suggests how sensationalism infuses the adoption narrative as well. The reader is invited to linger on pain and suffering, on the horrifying details of either the victim's suffering, on the criminal's exploits, and on the violated body, all of which represent China as the scene of horror. Not only do the sensational elements of the novel draw attention to the sentimental pathos of the heroine Allison Turk, but these elements also highlight a distinct non-sentimental basis for subjectivity in China. Through the suffering of all the Chinese characters in the novel under the corruption of the state, the Chinese nation itself becomes sensationalized as a space of degradation. China's need for the intervention of U.S. benevolence is narrativized specifically through the adoption plot. As the sentimental heroine's exploits are recounted, figures and rhetorics of sensation dramatize the suffering body outside of liberalism and position these bodies' relation to larger structures of state power, international politics, and the family. Pollard's articulation of the boundaries of sentimentality to associate the U.S. with sentiment and morality against China suggests the limits of Rorty's turn to sentimentality as a non-universalizing basis for human rights. The work of the novel to generate the reader's empathy for suffering in China continues to reinscribe the logic of global divisions of free and unfree, modern and non-modern spaces.

Modernizing China

Counterposed to Rorty's emphasis on the cultural contingency of human rights, China comes to be identified culturally and naturally with the lack of rights. While this essay has argued that Allison Turk, the novel's heroine, is the liberal, sentimental subject with whom the reader is asked to identify, the adoptee is not just a vehicle through which the American parent can form a family but is the driving force of the family plot and geopolitical drama. It is the figure of the Chinese female orphan that fundamentally invokes debates over human rights and evokes the geopolitical context of the turn of the twentyfirst century in which adoption from China takes place. In a sense, the narrative of adoption can be understood to be an allegory for Chinese modernity in the U.S. discourse of the Asia Pacific economic boom of the 1990s. Contradictory representations of China as at once a looming global economic power and a nation of anti-democratic social systems (at a time of assertions in the U.S. that free markets would generate political freedoms) suggest that in a culturally, politically, and economically transnational era, China could enter modern geopolitical relationships but not without the resurfacing of reminders of its long-held alterity to Western rights and reason.6 China may achieve economic modernity but is still seen as non-modern in terms of society based on western rights and reason. In the context of this set of discourses, the figure of the adoptee also symbolizes for Americans the contradictions of the old and new in understanding China. Portrayed as the victim of misogynistic tradition and anti-democratic authoritarian government, the adoptee is also a modern figure who can be redeemed through adoption into the American family.

Not only does the novel narrate sentiment as the means to achieve human rights, and the U.S. white woman as the sentimental heroine rescuing her Chinese adopted daughter to the U.S., the proper space of sentiment. Sentimentality also gives China the potential to modernize and reveals the limits of a relativist notion of rights are revealed at the same time. In the course of the novel, a whole set of Chinese people feel for the plight of the child and are moved to act to help them, but their lives prove to be expendable as they die for their actions. The fact that these people will sacrifice their lives to help the babies escape and become Americans reaffirms the U.S. as a destination of freedom, and the Chinese subjects as lacking human rights. Through the sensory experience of walking through Lao Ding, the underground orphanage that would have been the fate of the adopted children had the American "parents" returned the children, Major Ma Lin is "humanized" and decides to help the fugitives to safety. Ball describes Ma Lin's reaction to his discovery of the orphanage and the fate of the children as so astounding that he is physically affected:
   He spent the next hour in a state of surreal detachment ... It was
   the scale and audacity of it all that took his breath away ... Lao
   Ding was a giant clearinghouse of human flesh ... Ma Lin walked
   through their quarters as if through a dream, his sense of
   unreality growing in each room. (347-350)

Not only are the adopted children saved from their fate, but through his involvement Ma Lin is also "saved" by the children. The sensational experience of viewing what could have happened to the children shocks him into action, and he is now able to recognize the importance of Allison's "determination" to save the baby, for she is a "woman who will die rather than yield" her baby (366). This recognition of the pathos of the child and the imperative to save her "galvanize(s) Ma Lin into action. For the first time in his life, he acted on instinct, against order, against authority" (367). The pathos of the situation causes him to act on the level of his feelings and sensations, and to help the adoptees become subjects of sentiment. Though Ma Lin is redeemed morally in the logic of a narrative underwritten by a culture of sentiment, his execution at the end of the novel for aiding the fugitives to escape reminds us that sentiment is anathema to the illiberal Chinese state. Ma Lin's decision to help the family is necessarily a sacrifice of his life for those of the children within the structure of the state.

Though Ma Lin may experience sentiment, he is neither a subject of sentiment nor of human rights. The relativism of rights proposed by Rorty proves to be exclusionary in this instance; if the novel shows the grave stakes in transporting the child to freedom in the U.S. (it maps both a geographical and symbolic journey, as the plot moves across the country, indicated by a map of China at the start of the text), the potential modernization of China reaches this limit. The adoption scheme turns out to be good for the Chinese state itself, for exposing the underground orphanage also exposes the corruption at the high levels of government. At the critical moment of economic liberalization and changes in the communist rule, the adoption scenario exposes the deputy minister of the state government as the leader of the Black Bamboo triad, the most powerful underground gang in China. Ball writes that "in the midst of communism's death throes, Tong and his kind were helping to criminalize the state apparatus itself" (359). The result of the investigation leads to arrests in three provinces and the execution of the deputy minister, who was also the leader of the triad. To be sure, the triads are remnants of an old China:
   They were the seamy underbelly of China, more powerful sometimes
   than the government itself. They were ancient secret societies,
   created originally to overthrow the Manchus. Thwarted in their
   political desires, the triads turned to crime. Many moved to Hong
   Kong ... The ensuing centuries saw them flourish on both sides of
   the border as their networks grew worldwide. (329)

Illicit and oppositional social forms of the triad predate the contemporary government and still remain as a threat. Here the novel portrays on the persistence of archaic traditions in China's present that keep the nation from embracing a modern human rights culture. Even more damaging, the "underbelly" operates beyond political borders, suggesting the threat of the global expansion of anti-democratic forms of social order and business practices that China represents as an emerging superpower.

The transnational adoption drama appears to flout Chinese laws as American fugitives kidnap the children in the interest of the U.S. families' private, sentimental bonds. Yet the drama eventually winds up vindicating a larger affective freedom that, in fact, benefits the Chinese state by eradicating some of its antiquated social forms, such as the feudal societies. Nevertheless, the Chinese state remains in a primitive stage in the teleology of freedom: references to a "new China" in the text indicate a process of transformation and modernization that falls short of attaining liberal statehood. The children are the excess of the state, as Wen Li, the only baby to escape, is described as "a child the state didn't want anyway--a baby cast off, like the countless thousands of Lao Ding and Suzhou--children with no names and no future" (366). As the unwanted excess of China's one-child policy, these children have no place or future in China. The novel suggests, however, that their future can be in U.S. Significantly, China's modernity cannot account for these children, as the sea route that Allison, Tyler, and Wen Li take to freedom is the one used in "operation yellow bird," an "underground railroad set up to smuggle dissidents" out of China after the Tiananmen massacre (270). In contrast to the scene discussed above, where abandonment was not grounds for asylum, the importance of saving these children is framed as political act, akin to the emancipation of refugees, within the context of the family.

The bourgeois domestic family, then, justifies the U.S. as the proper space of freedom and rights, and China the antithesis of this. It is not the international pressure that effects the family's escape to freedom, marked by crossing the boundary into Hong Kong waters, then still a British colony, but rather the individual choices of sympathetic people. The reduction of the political and social considerations into individual acts brought about by the pathos of the child (for in the family formation plot it is the child, not mother, whose life is at stake), upholds the sentimental tropes of motherhood and family as universally human categories. For instance, when Allison reaches a temporary refuge at a monastery, the "abbot" asks her:
   'I have heard Beijing radio speak of the criminal Turk ... We also
   receive the BBC and on that radio we have heard of the heroine
   Turk. It is most unusual to find two women inhabiting one skin. I
   am just an ignorant old man, so you must please tell me. Which
   stands now in the presence of Buddha?' 'I don't know,' she said.
   'I'm just ... a mother.' (337)

The competing claims of the Chinese and British media that consider Allison to be either criminal or hero, are both deferred to her status as "mother." The sentimental appeal to a feeling relationship takes precedence over public discourses. This appeal to the category of motherhood appears to universalize the ability to feel for the child. Indeed, as Rorty suggests, it is through "sentimental education" that the "little, superficial, similarities as cherishing our parents and our children" that everyone can understand that a common basis for humanity is instantiated. If the radical potential of the aesthetic mode of sentimentalism is the possibility of the reader's transformation through "identification with alterity," then the sentimental heroine of China Run serves to deflate this potential. The identification with what is foreign is mediated through the identification with the white American mother (648).

This focus on the family serves as a displacement of the psychic and physical violence staged in the sensational scene, from the public domain of international human rights that is intertwined with politics at the level of states, the media, and nongovernmental organizations, into individual actions that take place within the private family, for instance, through adoption or the consolidation of the non- biological family. Both forms of action in response to the endangerment of life in communist China are underwritten by a recognition of who counts as human and what counts as acting as a good human according to a moral register (based in sentiment not reason), which corresponds in the novel to western liberal values associated with the U.S. In particular, the mother's liberal agency in her moral imperative to save the racial other by bringing her into the white family brings to the fore the white woman as the proper subject of inclusion into liberalism, and the U.S. as a liberal state.

In China Run, not everyone does have access to universal relationships of family, and in fact, it is the ability of individuals to feel a family bond that sets the American characters apart from the Chinese. While the American woman is able to disengage her identity as mother from the claims of public discourse, there is an inextricability of the state and family in China throughout the novel. For example, when Ma Lin tortures Yi Ling, the Americans' language guide (whose decision to help them escape arises from her own trauma from her state-coerced abortion that denied her motherhood) he injects his subject with drugs to extract information from her subconscious (198). Telling her that he is her "father" and that he would like information about the American women's whereabouts, a metaphoric family relation becomes intertwined with the authority of the state. Wanting to help her "father," Yi Ling says, "You are Ma Lin. My father ... Yes Father. You are good ... I will help, Father, I will" (196-7). Her (female) submission to the (male) state is staged as a voluntary desire to help her father. This sensational scene of psychic and physical violence demonstrates the impossibility of a bourgeois private domain of the family, and suggests communist state as a perverse patriarchy. Ma Lin glimpses the possibility of becoming a feeling subject when he is moved for the first time to "tears (that are) real as he held [Yi Ling] close" (253). He is moved to help her, as a means to atone for his estrangement during the Cultural Revolution from his biological daughter. But his execution for his dissident actions at the end of the novel forecloses the possibility of the sentimental subject in China.


Ultimately, the novel affirms the U.S. as the space of human rights and sentimentality in contrast to the unfree space of China. Yet the U.S. achieves this status only within the realm of the domestic; indeed, the private sphere in this novel seems to be the space in which the contradiction between familial bonds and the U.S. state is resolved. Ball suggests that the private sphere is distinct from that of the public, and that the private is in fact a site of resistance to the power of the public sphere of state imperatives. At the end of the novel, for instance, the U.S. government covers up the real events of the families' "china run" as well as the agency of the women in saving the children as it credits its own actions with effectively saving the families from China. In response to a media question about the U.S. state "instrumental(ity) in helping Mrs. Turk to escape from China," the "White House Press secretary" implies that the CIA was responsible for her safe rescue, and thus, the state and dominant media appropriate the story for political purposes (374).

If China Run is overtly a novel of sensation that calls upon the reader to act, then the appeal to action rests on a definition of the media and state untrustworthy and unable to act to save lives. Instead, direct action based on sensational appeal must be responsible for saving the Chinese female child. Bringing her to the U.S. as part of a family makes her a subject of rights, and is represented in the novel as a form of human rights activism. This activism is not defined as political, as in the organized public demonstrations reported in the media, or in legal and moral claims of the state. Rather, saving the child is an individual action based on private, familial bonds. However, as this essay has suggested, this ability to act, to complete the paperwork and supply the money to convince the Chinese government that one is a worthy parent, is a privilege of particular western subjects and maintains the boundaries of modern/non-modern that lie at the heart of Rorty's relativism. Not only does the adoptee's inclusion into the American family articulate her as a subject of human rights, but the novel further suggests that the effect of the adoption scenario is that China itself may even be able to modernize through sentimentality, rather than through measures at the level of the state or international politics or non-governmental organizations. If the sentimental heroine here in fact stands in for the interests of the liberal state, the U.S. emerges as the space from which the sentimental can be staged, as Allison's performance of sentimental subjectivity in China depends upon her freedoms as a U.S. citizen as she enacts American family formation through her adventures.

Though sentimentalism overtly relies on a logic of separate spheres to differentiate the private and public realms in the U.S., and between the U.S. and China (at the national domestic level), what this essay has tried to suggest is that the ease with which the U.S. state subsumes events into its own narrative demonstrates in fact that conjoining of the private and public in the novel as both are contained by the structure of U.S. liberalism in the novel. While the history of transnational adoption must be understood through U.S. wars in Asia, in particular, the current wave of adoption from China does not come about through military intervention, but rather in a very specific post-Cold War moment of Chinese economic growth and fears of Chinese threats to U.S. global dominance. By going past narratives of rescue in popular culture can encourage understanding transnational Chinese adoption within the relationship of global geopolitics and domestic race and gender politics.

Works Cited

Anagnost, Ann. "Scenes of Misrecognitions: Maternal Citizenship in the Age of Transnational Adoption". positions: east asia cultures critique 8 (2000): 389- 421.

Ball, David. China Run. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Berlant, Lauren. "Poor Eliza." American Literature 70 (1998): 635-68.

China Connection Online. 2004. 15 November 2004 <>.

Chinese Children 2004. 15 November 2004 <>.

Eng, David. "Transnational Adoption and Queer Diasporas." Social Text 21 (2003): 1-37.

Families With Children From 2004. 14 November 2004. <>.

Goldberg, David Theo. Racist Culture: Philosophy And The Politics Of Meaning.

Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.

Greenhalgh, Susan. "Globalization and Population Governance in China" in Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, eds. Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. 354 - 372

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Human Rights Of Chinese Women. New York: Human Rights in China, 1995.

Human Rights Watch/Asia. Death by Default: A Policy of Fatal Neglect in China's State Orphanages. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996.

Palumbo-Liu, David. Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.

Rorty, Richard. "Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality" in On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993. eds. Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley. New York: BasicBooks, 1993. 111 - 134

Samuels, Shirley. The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Streeby, Shelley. American Sensations: Class, Empire, and the Production of Popular Culture. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2002.

United States. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Roundtable On China's Children: Adoption, Orphanages, And Children With Disabilities. 107th Cong. 2nd sess. Washington: GPO, 2003.

United States. Department of State. Bureau of Consular Affairs. 2004. "Immigrant Visas Issued To Orphans Coming To The U.S." 1 Dec 2004 <>.

Volkman, Toby. "Embodying Chinese Culture: Transnational Adoption in North America". Social Text. 21 (2003): 29-55.

Volpp, Leti. "Feminism Versus Multiculturalism". Columbia Law Review 101 (2001): 1181-1218.

(1) Data on the number of transnational adoptions come from <>

(2) ibid.

(3) "American Chinese" is a term used in adoptive communities to denote the inter-racial and intercultural status of the family and is distinguished from Chinese American identity.

(4) For an example of U.S. rhetoric about human rights and orphans, see United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Roundtable On China's Children: Adoption, Orphanages, And Children With Disabilities. 107th (2003). For human rights NGO sources on culture and gender in China, see Human Rights in China's Caught Between Tradition And The State (1995) and Human Rights Watch/Asia, Death by Default: A Policy of Fatal Neglect in China's State Orphanages (1996).

(5) See for instance Karin Evan's The Lost Daughters of China (2000).

(6) See David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier, especially Chapter 10, "Asia Pacific: A Transnational Imaginary" for a discussion of the 1990s rise of East Asian economies and U.S. cultural politics.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Departments of English Language and Literature and American Culture and Literature, Ege University
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Author:Cheng, Emily
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Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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