Left-Behind American Children in Fuzhou, China

A Summer Camp At Youshi Xinbei Kindergarten

Located in the lower reaches of the Min River, Fuzhou is the capital city of Fujian Province.  

It serves as the economy, politics, culture and transport center of the province.


Since the 1980s, a large number of young adults from Fuzhou have begun travelling to the United States in hopes of finding a better life. Once settled in the US, they send their children, who are usually infants, back to their hometowns. These children are called "left-behind" Americans and are usually taken care of by their grandparents. They are reunited with their parents once they have reached the appropriate age to attend grade school in the U.S. According to the Fuzhou Oversea Chinese Association, about 10,000 children with American citizenship are now “left behind” in Fuzhou. Most of the left-behind children do not know English, or American culture and habits. That is why I and another CiN member, Xinhui Dai, have decided to hold a summer camp that aims to teach these children English language and American culture so they can develop a head start to their lives in the U.S.

     5 PM, classes were over at Xinbei Kindergarten in Lianjiang County, Fujian Province, China. Dozens of 2 to 6 years old kids were sitting on the bench next to the main entrance waiting for elder family member to take them home. What’s different than other kindergarten was that those who came to take them home were not their parents, but their grandparents. Same situation existed in dozens of other kindergarten in this county, because these children came from the other side of The Pacific, United States. They were born in the United States, thus became U.S. Citizens by birth. Sent back to China by their parents when they were around 1 year old and would spend about 4 to 6 years in the “hometown”, then return to America to begin their new and unfamiliar life. They are being referred as “left-behind" American children in China.

     According to statistic data, there were about 10,000 to 12,000 “left-behind" American children in just Lianjiang, Changle,and Fuqing, which are all counties in Fujian, China. Each year, some of them would return to the United States, but a new wave of young children would also be sent back. Childhood of these children in a way was similar to the life of salmon. Starting from their birth place, they then went across the Pacific Ocean to their parents’ hometown. 5 or 6 years later, they complete this years-long migration of over 20,000 km. by going back to their birth places.

     A baby born in the United States, disappeared from his parents life, only to reappear several years later, the same experience occurred on tens of thousands of children. What does this mean? What remark will this experience leave in their young and fragile heart? How should governments of the United States and China think and deal with social problems that may arise? How should the society provide necessary help to them and their family? To seek answers to these questions, Duoduo Liang, a high school students from the United States, conducted research and survey for two years with her peers.

     Their social survey was conducted using both questionnaires and site visits. First they visited Chinese restaurants in New York to conduct questionnaire survey with those children’s parents, who work in such restaurants. At the same time they also got in contact with dozens of children who had just returned to the United States, to understand feelings of these children about the United States, as well as study and living in the United States. They then utilized their holidays back in China, went to places where “left-behind" American children were most concentrated in, such as Lianjiang County, Changle City, etc., to conduct site visit. In addition to questionnaire survey, they volunteered at Lianjiang Xinbei kindergarten, had classes together, played games, and chatted with “left-behind" American children while also teaching them English. In turn, they obtained real, invaluable feedback from children there.

     Here are some of the findings and insights:

     First, these children separated with their parents for a long term, which made them prone to greater psychological differences comparing to normal children.

     In Xinbei kindergarten observation was made that, compared to children who were with their parents, those being raised by grandparents tended to be more introverted, did not like to initiate communication with others, and less willing to reveal their feelings and thoughts. For example, Chen ** (English name Marshall), 4 years old, in the kindergarten he would rather play alone, did not like to have partner. One time, a teacher organized a game called “find a friend”, he was determined not to find a friend and even ran to the other side in order to avoid participation. Another example, Xu ** (English name Helena), 3.5 years old, held fearful and resisting psyche toward other children. Not only was she unwilling to play with them, sometimes she would even ran away and cry. Completed questionnaires from 20 kindergarten teachers and 60 interview and observation records of those children revealed that about 65% of “left-behind" American children exhibited characteristics of poor willingness of participation, passive learning pattern, and prone to be unsocial.

     In the process of answering questionnaire and face-to-face interviews, when asked, "Who is your favorite person?" 80 percent of the local children replied, "Mom and Dad". Answer from “left-behind" American children were very diverse, including teacher, grandparent(s), playmate, and even puppet toy. Less than 25% of them gave “parent(s)” as answer. As high as 38% of them lacked deep impression of their parents.

    Kindergarten teachers also told investigators that “left-behind" American children held unusual dependency toward teacher. Some girls called teacher "Mom" and some children would not go home with grandparent and wanted to stay in the kindergarten after school was over.

   The main reason for these differences and problems seemed to be closely related to the fact that they left their parents prematurely and were unable to receive parental affection and care. Although their grandparents also loved them, but because of their much older age and effect of generation gap, they hardly understood these children’s psychological needs, rarely use body languages such as caressing, hugging, kissing to express their love. They could provide these children with materially, but were unable to replace parental love. In the case of lacking parental affection over a long term, many children developed psychological problems such as loneliness, self-latching, apathy, and rebellious attitude. Mental deficiency developed in one’s childhood will have negative impacts over personality formation, social self-identification, and social adaptability. It is necessary to raise attention of parents and the whole society about this problem.

     Second, the “left-behind" American children found themselves to be psychological unadapted after returning to the U.S.

     Investigators had visited a Chinese family in Chicago where a couple was raising two children. The elder boy was 6 years old, got sent back to China soon after birth and had just returned to the United States. His younger sister was 3 years old and had always been living in the United States. During interview the couple told investigators that the boy was more introverted, rarely expressed his opinions, the girl was more lively and liked to express frankly. There were traces of uncomfortable signs existing in relationship between the boy and his parents, such as that he basically would not display coquetry to his parents, nor would he confide to them. His mother noticed that the boy often exhibited feeling of inferiority when with his younger sister as he would refuse to learn the same knowledge or games with her. "He feared losing to his sister." His mother said.

     The problem in this Chinese family were common in in other families. Questionnaire survey showed that up to 68% of the “left-behind" American children could not adapt to new living environment after returning to United States. 62% of parents thought that, when these young children return to them, there existed a psychological barrier.

     “Left-behind" American children are special social phenomena. Background of their appearance could be traced back to the wave of Chinese youngster leaving their country in late 20th century. Those Chinese used every means available to get to the U.S. and faced severe living environment and an uncertain future. They had to be engaged in heavy labors to earn their living. Reason they gave birth to children in the United States was simply that these children would have American citizenship so they could work and live in the United States in the future. However because of uncertainty of these parents’ living environment and tremendous of life and work, these Chinese could not afford to raise their children in the United States. Therefore, sending the child back to the Chinese mainland to be raised by their grandparents became the uneasy but only choice. Then, these children with U.S. citizenship were sent back to China, to their parents' hometown and spent their childhood in care of grandparents.

     Survey results showed that since “left-behind" American children had been living in such a different environment of language, habits, teaching methods and content comparing to those of the United States since their infancy, maladjustment of language, psychology, identity recognition, character formation, intellectual growth were due to happen when they returned to the United States and greatly affect these children’s future. 10 years later, there will be over 50,000 “left-behind' American children entering adolescence. Their childhood experiences and mental defect caused by these experiences might affect their own lives and even impact American society in some way. Therefore, the U.S. government should recognize possible psychological and social problems of “left-behind" American children and provide intervention, counseling and help.

     Investigators also urged governments of United States and China to cooperate and take necessary measures to mitigate the adverse effects caused by these problems. They recommend:

  1.       The two government should support establishment of bilingual kindergarten, mainly for “left-behind" American children, in gathering areas, such as Lianjiang County and Changle City of Fujian, China, etc., so these small American citizens could receive early education that contains characteristics of both country.
  2.       Implement special classes, such as U.S geography, flag and national anthem, basics of U.S. cities, in kindergarten of such gathering area. Other possible topics include Sino-US friendship, historic stories from both countries, teaching the concept of parents to children, role-playing game to help them understand the meaning of parents and the relationship between parents and children so that children can get the basic knowledge and experience of parents as soon as possible. Investigators conducted such games in Xinbei Kindergarten and achieved good results.
  3.       The U.S. government should consider lack of childcare and health care to "left-behind" American children. Currently, these American children in China do not have access to any health insurance, so they weren’t able to enjoy the same treatment as other Chinese children. An insurance institution designated by both governments would be able to provide such health insurance to this type of children so they could enjoy physical examination, health care and other basic medical protection.
  4.       U.S. Agencies in China, such as the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, and Sino-U.S. NGO’s should participate in research on the case of “left-behind" American children by taking visits, distribute questionnaires, and other forms to understand the situation timely. Relevant agencies can also organize targeted activities, such as special camps for “left-behind" American children, free English training for children, distribution of books, audio, and videos that introduces America that’s suitable for children, special nutrition plan for “left-behind" American children, etc. Through these activities, “left-behind" American children would still have some way to keep a connection with United States, learn U.S., be aware of their relationship with U.S., and have a good impression after leaving U.S., which would be very important.
  5.       Both governments should also provide educational advises to those parents who remained in the U.S., so they would understand the problems prone to happen to children who left their parents young, encourage them to strengthen their connection with children by using video-chat, phone call, sending gifts, and visiting. After these children return to America, programs such as “Close to American Camp" should be implemented and encourage participation of parents and children so these children could adapt to American life style as soon as possible and find their place in American society.
  6.      Investigators urged, both governments of U.S. and China are equally obligated and responsible in helping “left-behind" American children. The Chinese government, especially Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and Overseas Chinese Association of local government should put security, education, counseling of “left-behind" American children in their working schedule, and take measures to support United States and NGO’s in the efforts of helping “left-behind" American children so that these children would grow up healthy, not only become outstanding U.S. Citizens and outstanding overseas Chinese, but also become bridge and link of Sino-US friendship, cooperation, and affection.

American Culture Workshop During the Summer

Get to know the children

Learn English Songs

Learn English Words

Color Chinese and American Flags

Some Facts:

Changle Municipality, Fujian

Most of the left-behind children live in the coastal area of Fuzhou. In Changle Municipality alone, there are 5,000 of these children.

Village in Lian Jiang, Fuzhou

The parents and grandparents of these left-behind children built these nice apartments, so that the kids may have nice living arrangements while their parents are working overseas. 

Shipping Service

The left-behind children are usually shipped back to China when they are few months old. Many of these shipping services can be found in New York's China Town.

Communication with Parents

The left-behind children often communicate with their parents through phone calls and video chats.

Milk formula from the US

Because they are different from those found in Fuzhou, toys and milk formula are sent from the US to the left-behind children.

Growing up with Grandparents

Without parents around, most kids depend on their grandparents and teachers to support them through school.

Returning back to US

At age 5, these children are reunited with their parents. Once in the U.S., these children are often forced to delay their formal education by one or two years due to language barriers.

Above Source: http://offbeatchina.com/left-behind-american-children-in-china

About Me, the Author:

Jacqueline Liang

Being CiN's President in 2014, my goal is to expand CiN's services to many children who are left-behind and need special attention. I hope this project wil cover a special segment of these children that currently live in China.

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