Rising Adoptee Voices

Panel members
Apr 28 2023

During the more than thirty years that China’s one-child policy was in place, an estimated over 100,000 children were adopted from China by international families. Today, Chinese adoptees make up a sizeable portion of the Chinese diaspora population, and as they come of age, many are beginning to return to China and share their experiences.

Last week, a series of events at NYU Shanghai brought together Chinese adoptees who grew up abroad and are now living, working, and studying in China. “Adoption affects the very fabric of Chinese society; the one-child policy left no one unaffected,” said Global China Studies major Leyla Bevis-Mast ’25, one of the organizers of the events. She and the other organizers, all members of the NYU Shanghai community and adoptees themselves, have been meeting up regularly, including Professor Dan Blum and staff members Yuechi Kelly and Leigh Johnston.  

The events included a documentary screening, attended by over seventy members of the NYU Shanghai community, a discussion with the filmmaker, an adoptee panel discussion, and an adoptee-only conference, the first of its kind in China.

The documentary Found follows three teenage Chinese American adoptees who find out through DNA testing that they are biological cousins. Together Chloe, Lily, and Sadie embark on a return trip to China to discover their origins. Filmed in China and the US, the documentary sheds light on the indelible mark that Chinese adoption has left on adoptees, their biological and adoptive families, and Chinese society as a whole. The organizers said they screened the film because it provides an entry point to discuss race, gender, class, adoption, and family dynamics in China and the US. 

 Rising Adoptee Voices

Bevis-Mast noted that NYU Shanghai was a fitting host for the documentary screening. “NYU Shanghai facilitates cross-cultural exchange between the West and the East, the very cultures that makeup the multicultural background of Asian adoptees,” she said. “We hoped this documentary would resonate with our community because the adoptee journey of returning to one’s birth country is the embodiment of the inquisitive nature NYUSH hopes to inspire”

Following the film, director (and NYU alum) Amanda Lipitz spoke to the audience from her home in New York. Lipitz said she wanted to expand viewers’ understanding about adoption. She explained that she titled the documentary Found in order to convey the personal journeys of the adoptees she followed in the film – finding family, finding friends, finding themselves, and finding community.

Adoptee panel members and event organizers from left to right: Dan Blum, Yuechi Kelly, Leyla Bevis-Mast, and Leigh Johnston

Some in the audience reflected that the film and panel discussion was the first time they had heard so many different adoptee perspectives. “It was eye-opening and powerful to hear about the personal experiences of a spectrum of people in the adoptee community, including not only adoptees themselves but also birth and adoptive parents and nannies who cared for adoptees as babies,” said Diane Geng, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. “[Hearing the panelists discuss their] choice to spend time in their birth countries and their reflections on identity, culture, and personal growth was incredibly inspiring and educational.”


NYU Shanghai’s adoptee community includes Research Assistant Professor of Psychology Dan Blum, a Korean adoptee. He spoke in the panel discussion of his experiences in Korea and China. Blum spoke about attending the annual IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Association) conference, which has brought Korean adoptees together for almost 20 years. He explained that the Korean adoptee community is older and more established, as adoption of Korean children began during the Korean War. “Having had the profound experience of connecting with hundreds of Korean adoptees in Seoul, it’s wonderful to witness Chinese adoptees start to convene as a community in China,” said Blum.

The NYU Shanghai Chinese adoptee community draws inspiration from the Korean adoptees’ model. While not all international adoptees have an interest in reconnecting with their birth country, more and more Chinese adoptees have chosen to return to China. 

On Saturday, organizers led a slate of adoptee-only workshops and sessions at the first gathering of its kind.

Nine adoptees – including four from outside the NYUSH community who traveled from Beijing and Xi’an – gathered on campus to reflect on their experiences. They participated in workshops designed to promote conversation among adoptees, including a discussion about the “Adoptee Consciousness Model,” a movement workshop, a discussion of mental health and adoption, and a printmaking workshop led by Assistant Arts Professor of Visual Arts Monika Lin.

The attendees of the conference stand in the art room

Attendees of the adoptee gathering

"Building intentional community with adoptees for the past several years has been essential to my adoptee journey,” said co-organizer Yuechi Kelly. “I would not be here without the support of adoptees in my life, and I am delighted to have found adoptees in Shanghai.”

As Chinese adoptees born at the peak of China’s family planning policies begin to reach university age, the organizers say they expect a wave of adoptees who might be interested in coming to China to live, work, study, or just visit. Co-organizer Leigh Johnston said the organizing team hopes to keep the momentum going. “We’re already thinking about ways to keep this energy going and welcome and provide resources for other adoptees who are interested in coming back.”


These events were supported by NYU Shanghai’s Academic Resource Center, Global China Studies, Humanities, and the Office for Community Engaged Learning.