The story of the reunion of a Chinese couple with the baby girl they were forced to give up for adoption in 1995 proves that not even China’s tyrannical one-child policy can keep parents away from the children they love.
Post Magazine is reporting on the story of Kati Pohlen who was born on a houseboat on a secluded canal in China twenty-two years ago. On that day, her mother, Qian Fenxiang, was in hiding along with her three year-old daughter as she waited to give birth to a child who should have been aborted under China’s “family planning” program.
When the child finally arrived, Xu Lida, Qian’s husband, cut the cord himself with a pair of sterilized scissors in an effort to avoid going to the hospital where they might be caught by authorities. If caught, the child could have been killed.
Instead, the couple waited for five days, and the 24 year-old Xu picked up his newborn daughter, who they named Jingzhi, and took her to a vegetable market in nearby Suzhou. He left Jingzhi at the market with a handwritten note that read:
“Our daughter, Jingzhi, was born at 10am on the 24th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, 1995. We have been forced by poverty and affairs of the world to abandon her. Oh, pity the hearts of fathers and mothers far and near! Thank you for saving our little daughter and taking her into your care. If the heavens have feelings, if we are brought together by fate, then let us meet again on the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou on the morning of the Qixi Festival in 10 or 20 years from now.”
The baby was found and delivered to Suzhou city’s children’s welfare institute.
At about the same time, Ken and Ruth Pohler of Hudsonville, Michigan made the decision to adopt a child.
“We didn’t really think it mattered which country we adopted from but we have a brother-in-law who is Chinese and Ruth’s sister adopted from China, too, which was neat,” Ken told the Post.
In 1996, a year after Jinzghi was born, Bethany Christian Services took 10 American couples to the Suzhou orphanage in China where they all adopted new daughters. As the Post explains, the orphanage was filled with girls because of the traditional Chinese preference for sons.
And along with little Jingzhi came the note from her birth parents which a translator read for them once they were back on the bus.
“She was so moved by it, she was in tears while she read it out to us. It was such a heartfelt message,” Ken said.
But he and his wife decided not to tell their daughter about this until she was at least 18 and only if she showed some interest in finding out about her past life.
Jingzhi was brought back to America, to the close-knit community of Hudsonville, Michigan where she was renamed Catherine “Kati” Su Pohler. Hers was a typical childhood in small town America.
“I had a solid, good childhood,” Kati says. “Everyone knew I was adopted, obviously, so I was never asked about it.”
She described her family as “very religious” and close.
“My two brothers are quite a bit older. I guess if I felt different, it was because I was the youngest and I was a girl,” she says.
Little did she know, in 2005, when she was 10 years old, her birth parents, Qian and Xu, went to the Broken Bridge on the Qixi Festival just as they promised in the note and waited for their daughter to show up.
“We got there early, and we carried a big sign with our daughter’s name and words similar to those we used in the original note. We felt like running up to every girl we saw on the bridge,” Xu says. “It was awful.”
By 4:00 p.m., it was obvious that Jingzhi wasn’t coming and the couple went home in disappointment.
However, the Pohlers remembered the note and the 10-year promise and got in touch with someone who could visit the Broken Bridge that day and see if the couple had shown up.
“We prayed about it and talked to a friend who often travelled to China for business,” Ken said. “He said he could ask a friend called Annie Wu to try and find the birth parents on the bridge. We didn’t want to involve Kati in something as vague as this. But it was important to us that the birth parents knew their daughter was adopted by a family who love her very much and provide her with a good home.”
Unfortunately, Wu missed the couple by just minutes. After checking to be sure there were no distressed parents around, she was about to leave when she spotted a news crew that was filming on the bridge. She asked if they could check their video to see if anyone who looked like Kati’s birth parents had been there.
Sure enough, when they reviewed the film, there was Xu and Qian standing on the bridge with a sign sporting Jingzhi’s name.
Naturally, the television station thought this story was phenomenal and it was picked up on television and in the newspapers. A friend in Hangzhou saw one of the reports and told the couple who were overjoyed to meet with Wu through the TV station. The couple was handed a letter from the Pohlers and some photographs of Kati which reassured them that their daughter was fine.
Because Kati was still so young, Wu was asked to cease contact with Xu and Qian and years would go by before they had any more news about their daughter. This time, it came through the work of a documentary filmmaker named Chang Changfu who was making a film about international adoptees from China when a friend told him Kati’s story. Changfu thought the story was “irresistible” and set about finding the girl’s adopted parents.
It was only by the grace of God that Changfu happened upon a message board for American parents who adopted children from Suzhou’s orphanage. One message was from a man named Ken Pohler who happened to mention that his daughter had a knee problem as a child. Changfu had learned that Kati had rheumatoid arthritis at a young age and that she lived with a family in Michigan.
He then found a photograph of Pohler online that matched the man in the photos Qian and Xu had been given. He managed to track him down and made contact with the Pohlers, although it took several years for him to convince the family that he had no ulterior motive.
The Pohlers decided that there would be no story about Kati meeting her birth parents on the Broken Bridge in the 20th year because they did not want to stir up the past.
However, a year later, when Kati was 21 and preparing for a semester in Spain as an exchange student, she asked her mother about her past again. This is when she learned that her parents knew her biological parents.
“I was shocked,” Kati said, and was at first angry at her adoptive parents for keeping her in the dark.
She eventually got in touch with Changfu herself and agreed to become the subject of a documentary about her search for her birth parents.
On the eve of the Qixi Festival this year, Xu and Qian finally met their beloved Jingzhi on the Broken Bridge for the first time. Qian broke down and sobbed uncontrollably “as the many years of yearning cracked open her battle-hardened shell. This was her daughter’s homecoming,” the Post reports.
Kati stayed with her birth parents for two days and shared a room with her older sister who speaks only limited English.
“It was really nice to see them. I was surprised by how emotional my Chinese mom was,” she told the Post.
Qian and Xu were disappointed that she would not refer to them as mama and baba but Kati is still trying to process it all.
“I want some sort of relationship. I want to see them again. But the big question is, what are they to me? I don’t even know what to call them,” she says.
Before her trip, the Asian side of her was purely physical, she explained. “Now, it’s deeper than that. It’s good that I am more in touch with where I came from, but it is also confusing. I am a product of where I grew up and that is not Asian in any sense of the word,” she says.
In more ways than one, they are still worlds apart. Because Qian and Xu don’t speak English, and Kati doesn’t speak Mandarin, communication is even more difficult.
As relieved as they are that their daughter is doing so well, the pain of that separation 21 years ago is still fresh.
“ . . . [N]ow that we have met her, we miss her even more than before,” Qian said. “I guess we can only tell ourselves she is like a daughter who has been married off.”
This heartbreaking story only underlines the tragic legacy of China’s one-child policy, which cost the lives of an estimated 400 million Chinese since its incorporation in 1979. Although the policy was eased a few years ago, the story of Kati, Qian and Xu prove that the suffering of the innocent goes on.
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