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China’s ‘left behind’ kids raised by grandparents while parents earn in U.S.

May 21, 2015 at 6:10 PM EDT
In a small private kindergarten in China’s southern Fujian province, most of the students are actually American. Their parents are Chinese migrants working in the U.S. who have sent their children home to live with grandparents until they can earn enough money to support them. University of California student Leo Zou reports on this story of reverse migration.
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GWEN IFILL: We turn now to a story about reverse migration to China. It’s about Chinese Americans in search of solutions. Where do the children go when their parents can’t afford day care? In many cases, back to their ancestral homes to live with grandparents. Often, they then don’t see their parents for years.

University of California student Leo Zou brings us the report.

LEO ZOU: This is Kinber, a private kindergarten in a small town in southern China’s Fujian province. What is different about Kinber is that most of these children are Americans by birth. In China, they are known as “yang liu shou er tong,” or “left behind foreign children”.

Huizhen Jiang is the principal at Kinber.

HUIZHEN JIANG, Principal, Kinber Elementary School (through interpeter): Many Chinese people in Guantou have emigrated to the United States. Most parents work in the restaurant business there, which keeps them very busy. They don’t have time for day care, so they send their kids back to live with their grandparents.

LEO ZOU: The children are only a few months old when they arrive. It will be years before they meet their parents again.

In this small town of Guantou, some 60,000 people, almost the entire population, have emigrated. For most people, it was a one-way trip. After years of toiling in Chinatowns across America, they sent money home to China to help build houses for their parents.

Struggling to survive in the U.S., they also began to send their young children back. This boy, named Zhao Weijie, was sent back when he was a year old. His grandparents have raised three other children for their sons and daughters working overseas.

YUXIANG ZHENG, Grandfather of Zhao Weijie (through interpreter): What can you do? There is no other way to make a living. You can’t make money if you don’t send them back to China.

LEO ZOU: Weijie’s mother sends him toys, clothes and gifts from America. But the only contact he’s had with her has been through a computer screen.

Children like Weijie are common in Guantou. At Kinber kindergarten alone, more than two-thirds of its 250 students were born outside of China. The number is as high as 20,000 across the region.

In class, a teacher asks students to draw their whole family. One boy draws his father. The teacher asks, “Do you miss him?”

“Yes,” he says. “I cried.”

The teacher asks him what he would like to say to him.

“To come back,” the boy answers.

By the age of 5 or 6, most children are brought back to the U.S. to attend elementary school. In less than a month, the 6-years-old Liang Lexin will take that journey.

LIANG LEXIN, Student (through interpreter): I will go to the United States in nine days. I miss my parents. It’s been a very, very long time since I have seen them.

LEO ZOU: After five years apart, Liang will soon be reunited with her parents.

HUIZHEN JIANG (through interpreter): My heart really goes out to these kids. No matter how much the grandparents love their grandchildren, you can never replace a mother’s love. But parents need to make money in order to let them have a better future.

LEO ZOU: For the NewsHour, I’m Leo Zou in Fujian, China.



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