The Land of Promises

by Youqine Lefèvre

“In 1994, six Belgian families, including my adoptive father, travelled across China to adopt girls. I was born in Hunan Province in 1993 and was adopted at the age of eight months. According to the official documents I have, I stayed with my biological family for a month before they left me in a city called Yueyang. A resident found me and dropped me off at the police station. The authorities handed me over to the orphanage and reportedly searched for my parents for four months. I lived in the orphanage for seven months before I was adopted.”

The Land of Promises is about China’s birth control policy, especially its one-child policy (1979-2015) and its many consequences that still have and will continue to have repercussions. At the same time, it’s a personal project; it tells the stories of those parents who went almost to the other end of the world to adopt a child, of the five other girls adopted at the same time as me and of my experience in particular. I have no recollection of what preceded my adoption or of the meeting between the parents and children at the orphanage. My memory of this event has been mediated through the stories my father and the other parents have told me, the photographs and videos they made and the official documents. Drawing on these archives (which date to 1994), pictures I took during trips to China in 2017 and 2019, research based on writings of demographers and experts on China’s birth control policy and testimonies of people I met in China, this work is about the discovery of my country of origin and an attempt to understand what led to the separation and international and transracial adoption of hundreds of thousands of Chinese girls.