An ancient Chinese proverb says, “an invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of the time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.” This proverb has become popularized in recent years among the general public, and these words can be seen on tattoos, posters, and “inspirational quote” boards.
In the international (specifically Chinese) adoption community, these words have a very different meaning. The Invisible Red Thread proverb has been used to propagate and encourage adoptions, convincing many that adoptions are acts of destiny. The problem with saying that children are connected to the people “destined” to become their adoptive parents is that it is also saying birthmothers are equally destined to be in situations in which they have to relinquish their children and that these children are destined to lose their first families, countries, cultures, and everything they know.
I’m aware that some adoptive parents truly do feel like they received the child who was “meant for them.” But that child wouldn’t have been “meant for them” if it weren’t for devastating problems in their home country. Adoptive parents need to realize that adoptions are not destined to happen. They are the results of political and economic systems of oppression that entrap biological parents around the world, whether that be the social stigma against single mothers in Korea, the One Child Policy in China, and women’s inferior status or poverty in any country. Keeping the discussion of adoption at a “divine” level, and ignoring the actual political and socioeconomic issues surrounding it ensures that the problems which drive adoption will continue. Thus parents will continue to be kept in situations where they are forced to give up their children or where they remain mislead and unaware of their child’s trafficking.
I know that most adoptive parents are good-hearted people and would not want to perpetuate child trafficking and harmful social systems. If we wish to avoid these very things, then it is imperative that we change the rhetoric surrounding adoption from a rosy, miraculous, heartwarming deed and remember the children who have lost families, cultures, and identities, the parents who have lost children, and the broken adoption industry where people profit from exchanging children and countries profit from exporting children.
Though the proverb says, “the thread may stretch or tangle, but never break,” it is time to acknowledge that the invisible red thread is broken. The adoption community has twisted these words’ meaning from the original idea of “connected lovers” to connected families, “regardless of the time, place or circumstance.” The circumstances leading to adoption, though, are devastating, and these words in relation to adoption are simply untrue and become very harmful to many adoptees.
Above: an image of a Chinese child with a red thread wrapped around her, presumably waiting to find her “destined” adoptive parents on the other end of the thread.