Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Searching Siblings

 Although we often think of birth parents when we think of searching and reuniting, a growing contingent of searchers is also active in looking for adoptees: Siblings. These brothers and sisters have vague memories of a child being born into their families and then disappearing. The emotional hole left is hard for these siblings to fill, so they go out in search of answers, often without letting their families know.

Below are the voices of two such siblings. Up first is Huang Lu, the birth sister of an adoptee from Yujiang, Jiangxi Province. We collected Huang Lu's DNA back in 2018, and found her birth sister nine months later. Sadly, the adoptee has not sought to communicate after the initial email Huang Lu sent, so we act as an intermediary, forwarding letters from Huang Lu to be sister. What follows is one such letter.

Dear sister:

I pay close attention to international news coverage of the Pandemic. After reading your reply and knowing that you’re safe, I feel so incredibly happy. I also admire you for working towards becoming a nurse. Mom and Dad always remember you, especially Mom. Every time we talk about you, she remembers vividly the day you were born. 

It was a morning when you were eight months in Mom’s womb. Mom suddenly felt a stomachache after she came home from doing laundry. Since you were outside of the planned birth policy quota, and your due date was yet to come, Mom was not prepared. We lived in the countryside, and Dad rode his bike to find Mom at her mother’s home. Upon entering the front door, before he walked in the room, you had arrived on this earth. They dared not call the midwife, so they asked an experienced family member for help. Your umbilical cord was cut off by Dad with a pair of scissors held in his shaking hands. That night, the family planning officials broke in our grandmother’s home. Out of desperation, they sent you to the orphanage in Jinjiang Town. One of our aunts worked there, and our grandfather visited you a few times. You looked super adorable and beautiful. 

When I was in elementary school, I remember my aunt told me that I had a younger sister. But it was not until I went to college that Mom and Dad made the revelation to me. Since then, I’ve sought advice from many people around me on how to find you. Everyone in our family knows the truth, and my friends and relatives would send me any news or information that might be helpful. Many shared Longlan’s information with me; she helps separated family members to find each other. As soon as I heard about her, I added Longlan on WeChat, hoping to try my luck. To my surprise, I found a match. 

I’ve since been looking forward to hearing from you. You sent me an email and I gave you my cellphone number and WeChat name, but you didn’t respond. I’m not sure if you are still blaming Mom and Dad. They are not well-educated, but have worked very hard to support my college education. In the beginning, I had to take out a loan and work part-time to cover the tuition and living expenses. I work hard hoping to improve our parents’ financial situation. Now, our family is doing ok. Yesterday was my baby’s one-year-old birthday. Last night, I received your message and saw it this morning. I really wanted to tell Mom, but was afraid to let her down. Every time she talks about you, I can feel she really misses you and suffers from guilt. She has said many times, as long as you are happy, that’s more important than anything else. We’ll respect your choice. 

Mom and Dad are 50 now, and our younger brother is 20. I was born in 1993. Mom and Dad both do farm work at home. A few years ago, they bought an oil press to sell homemade canola oil. After my baby was born last year, Mom and Dad started to care for their grandchild. Sometimes, Dad goes out to do odd jobs. Our younger brother went to a technical secondary school, planning to become a migrant worker. But I hope he can go to a vocational college, a plan upended due to the pandemic. For now, he stays home. I’m working at the Urban Planning Bureau of Yingtan High-tech Zone. I’ll show you pictures of our family. We rarely take pictures, so these are older ones. I’ll show you these for now. When I go home this week, I’ll take more for you. I really hope we can talk one day.

I wrote the first letter after seeing your picture; I couldn’t wait to reply. This time, I’ve drafted the letter again and again; I’ve torn it up and rewritten it. I feel whatever I write is not good enough; although I have many things to tell you, I don’t know where to start. As a result, this second letter comes a little late. I’m still not satisfied with it––it can’t express what I want to say to you. The pandemic is still going on. How are you doing lately? Every day, I look at the picture you sent me and see myself in high school or college. I can’t help but marvel at the miraculous sibling resemblance. Dad has carried the deepest guilt for causing your separation from us. But using Mom’s words, it was a choice made when Dad himself could barely survive. We were forced to be separated. Mom always mentions you when we chat, quite subconsciously. She remembers the day you were born like it was yesterday. She is the one who misses you the most because you were a piece of flesh that fell from her. You were connected to her flesh-and-blood for ten months. Dad is an outgoing person, and would talk about you when he meets other people. Deep inside, he hopes that someone could provide some useful information to find you. In high school, as a troubled teen, I once ran away from home. When Dad went looking for me, he also asked a relative working in the Public Security Bureau how to find you. At the time, the Public Security Bureau hadn’t established an anti-trafficking office or a genetic database, so it was very difficult. Later, Dad saw the CCTV program "Waiting for Me," hosted by Ni Ping. He often mentioned he’d find you through this program, but couldn’t get in touch. Every time he received any news or information about oversea adoptees, he forwarded it to me immediately, using cellphone rather clumsily. We hoped to spot you in the news, but were disappointed every time. Longlan’s information was shared with me by an aunt, an uncle, Dad, and a friend. I added Longlan on WeChat right away. It was in 2017, when I just graduated from college. In 2018, I had my DNA matched with Longlan’s help. When it succeeded, Lan asked me to provide some pictures and personal information. Then came a long period of silence. I kept wondering if you were caught up in work or had other reasons. I followed up with Lan. I didn’t want to overburden her. Lately, I still wanted to know how you are doing, so I asked Lan again. Surprisingly, I received your picture and letter. I felt one step closer to you. After receiving your picture, Dad changed his WeChat profile to your picture––I’m a bit jealous! But I’m deeply happy. Dad is so happy to see you so cheerful and know that you are doing well after reading your letter. Mom is overjoyed. She feels her wish has come true. One night, when I got ready to bed, I saw Mom’s mobile phone lit as she looked after my baby. On the screen was your picture. She misses you. We all miss you. We want to know where you are. Do you have many friends? What’s the name of the pet in the picture you sent us? Who are other people in the picture––are they family members or friends? What’s the weather like in your area? How do you feel today? We want to know everything about you. I don’t know if this would overwhelm you, but I just want to express our love for you. As long as you are happy, we are happy. We all miss you very much.

The second sibling is the brother of a girl that was adopted from the Nanjing orphanage in Jiangsu Province. This young man now lives in the U.S., and we collected his DNA last month. If you know the family that Renpeng mentions, please let them know to contact us.

To whom it may concern,


My name is Renpeng Zhang. I come from China and now live in Seattle. I have a lost elder sister who was probably adopted by an American family in 1994. My parents and I are eager to find her. If you could read the story below and provide any useful information or help, we would be very grateful. Thank you in advance.

My sister was born in Anhui Province, China, on July 17, 1993. She was left in Nanjing Children's Hospital on July 25, 1993. We believe she was then sent to Nanjing Children’s Welfare Institute and later adopted by an American family in 1994. The recorded name of my possible sister was Shen Li (沈荔), and she was about eight months old when she was adopted by the American family.

The loss of my sister has been the most painful event in my mother's life, especially given her daughter was abandoned without her knowing for years. According to my mom, my sister looked a lot like me, with fair skin, small eyes, and a tiny swirl above her eyebrows. I have pictures of her when she was a baby––we are unmistakable siblings. After she was born, my sister was diagnosed with a short-section congenital megacolon, so my grandfather took her to the Nanjing Children's Hospital for medical treatment. However, he came back alone later that day, telling my mother that the girl had died of a serious illness. My mother became hysterical and did not believe a single word from him. She kept crying and quarreling with him, but was too frail to do anything as she was sitting the month after labor. It was a year later that she discovered her daughter had been abandoned alive in the Nanjing Children's Hospital. Overcome with grief, my mother suffered from serious bouts of depression.

Since the day my mother found out that her daughter had been abandoned, finding her daughter has been her most important mission in life. I have also made up my mind to look for my sister; I want to let her know that she is not alone in this world. It was the reason I came to study and work in the U.S.

In the past few years, my family never stopped looking for my sister. We regularly visited Nanjing Children’s Welfare Institute for updates. One day, a girl named Shen Li mentioned above caught our eyes when we were browsing the archives. Shen Li was sent to the Institute by Wutaishan Police Station on July 31, 1993, and was adopted by an American family in 1994, now living in the United States. When she was 16 years old, Shen Li returned to Nanjing for a visit once, and she had some photos taken. As soon as we saw those photos, we believed she was my sister. In the photos, she looked like a tomboy, with short hair. She was about 1.6 meters tall, with fair skin and small eyes. 

It is important to mention that I have uploaded my DNA to which can help match DNA samples. If you think you might be my sister, you could upload your DNA to We look forward to the day we meet. 



Renpeng Zhang


  1. We adopted from Nanjing in June 1994, a girl named Shen Le, born @ July 18, 1993. Now Mattie Hanson living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mattie does resemble the boy in your picture.