Posted by: viaprograms | February 25, 2011

Dragon Blossoms: An Adoptive Family’s Year in China

Linda's book

Alumna Linda Bevis (China ’83) recently wrote a book titled Dragon Blossoms: An Adoptive Family’s Year in China.  We asked Linda to share her experience with VIA and how traveling to China impacted her life.  If you enjoy the blog post, we hope you’ll read the book.

Today my daughter is eight, clad in a bright red apron, and downstairs laughing and making gnocchi with her father. If not for VIA, we wouldn’t know her.

Wandering across Stanford’s Quad in 1983, I saw a sign: “Teach English in China for Two Years.” I was curious. China seemed the culture furthest from my own. I signed up with Volunteers in Asia, and within months I was biking in Beijing and drinking beer out of bowls in Hangzhou. I suppose my students learned a few things about English and American culture from me, but it was mainly I who was learning from them. I learned how young my culture was:  my Chinese friends could still read steles that were 1000 years old. We can’t read the English of a thousand years ago unless we are Beowulf scholars. I learned how short-sighted my political views were when I asked a student if he thought Taiwan and China would reunify: “oh yes, within 200 years!”

Linda, her husband, and their daughter

China taught me much about myself and the world. I praised and criticized China to the same extent as my other homes. I went on to become a lawyer and then a high school teacher in Seattle. But every few years I visited my friends in China. One year, I informed my new husband that he’d be going to China with me and he, a playwright, researched Chinese literature — no small task — before we set off. Ed fell in love with Chinese theater and adapted Peach Blossom Fan for the LA stage.

So, when we decided to adopt a child, China was the obvious choice. We knew something of the culture, the land, and the history. I spoke the language. We had friends who lived in China. We could connect ourselves to our new multiracial heritage. If not for VIA, we would have had no reason to apply to the Chinese government to adopt our daughter.

Linda's daughter in class on her birthday

And that is how we came to adopt Leyla Fu-Chi from Jiangsu Province. And that is how we came to be living in Beijing in 2007-08. Leyla attended a Chinese preschool with portraits of Confucius and Bill Gates on the walls. I taught ESL to college students–in a language school run by a friend I’d known in Hangzhou in the 1980s. My students were handier than I at powerpoint presentations, and effortlessly texted me their grammar questions. Ed continued his writing projects from our wired 21st floor apartment and took us to see many a Beijing opera, complete with digital supra titles. There was also a major earthquake and much controversy about Tibet and the Olympics. China had changed a tremendous amount in 25 years–and so had I. It was exhilarating to be in my second home again: making new friends, building new bridges.

The heart of my book is our daughter. In my humble opinion, she is the most beautiful being China ever produced. Yet she probably came to us, her forever parents, because of one of the worst systems ever conceived by China: the one-child policy combined with a strict patriarchy. Still, all of my friends in Hangzhou loved their daughters dearly and it was one of my Chinese students, aghast and whispering, who told me about the diverging ratio of girls to boys–about 1:5 in the countryside in 1983. Moreover, the Chinese we met during our heritage year were delighted that we had adopted one of “their” children, and even more impressed that we were teaching her Mandarin and living in China. For Leyla Fu-Chi, it was a year where she began to understand more about what it meant to be Chinese, and began to form an identify beyond her American one:

Leyla Fu-Chi, Forbidden City

At the playground, an old man approaches and asks Ed in Mandarin if she’s Chinese. Ed hesitates and Leyla jumps right in, saying in Chinese, “I am Chinese.”

This is the first time she’s identified herself this way in Chinese. I see a new confidence that has been slowly growing but shows itself powerfully this month. It is made of some combination of more familiar surroundings, being five and a half, exploring her roots, feeling secure in her family and heritage, and feeling an identity with the people around her.

Thank you VIA, for bringing us to our daughter.

Linda Bevis

China ‘83

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