Child Valuation in Contemporary China: Abandonment, Institutional Care, and Transnational Adoption

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Marlow, Jessica

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In this thesis, I contend that orphaned and relinquished children’s positionality in Chinese society reveals a complex entanglement between changing domestic and international policies and popular Western perceptions of China. Initially inspired by my personal experiences evaluating the mental health of children in institutional care centers in Delhi, India, this thesis focuses on socio-political and economic factors which influence how children in institutional care are valued on the state and individual level. The orphaned child’s value within economic, moral, and political spheres is not objective or easily quantifiable; rather it is determined in relation to factors which extend far beyond the reach of the individual. Nevertheless, these value-decisions have tangible effects on children’s lived experiences. Key questions I will address in subsequent chapters are as follows: (1) To what extent do adult economic concerns and expectations influence the abandonment and/or adoption of children and their status in alternative care?; (2) What are the moral considerations of care in alternative care environments and how do these differ for domestic workers, international volunteers, and potential adoptees?; and (3) How do international perceptions of the China’s orphan care influence transnational adoption narratives and transnational adoption, and how do these perceptions intersect with the China’s political development of soft power overseas? This thesis foregrounds the complex, intercultural nature of institutional care in the contemporary period which are influenced by socio-historical and political changes in China and beyond.


Honors thesis


Asian and Middle Eastern Studies




China, Institutional Care, Children, Caregiving, adoption, Orphans



Marlow, Jessica (2020). Child Valuation in Contemporary China: Abandonment, Institutional Care, and Transnational Adoption. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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