In China, a U.S. adopted teen finds his roots

Christian Norris is reunited with is uncle and grandmother in Beijing.
His father and uncle fall to the ground, crying uncontrollably. After 11 years of not knowing, relief of finding a child they thought had been lost forever pours out of them.

That child is Christian Norris — he’s 17 now and he stood there unmoved as his father and uncle wept; perhaps because to him both men are distant memories. “I don’t really remember my dad that much,” Christian said quietly “I just remember my uncle, who raised me much of the time.” His low-key, almost stone-faced demeanor was in stark contrast to his father Jin Gaoke. “There are no words to describe the joy I felt when I saw him. He is like a piece of flesh from my own body.” His uncle Jin Xiaowang chimes in. “The hair on his arms makes him look American, he has lots of hair on his arms.” Christian set this day in motion three years ago when he asked his adopted mother Julia Norris to find his Chinese family; a search from Maryland in the United States, to a remote village in central China, which would eventually involve hundreds of China’s savvy Internet users. Despite her background as a federal and private investigator and her work on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted,” Julia’s search kept proving fruitless.

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Police and orphanage records were incomplete and Christian’s memories were vague. “The first obstacle was that I was focusing on the wrong province. He remembered being from Shanxi province … and he remembered the name of (his) village as Dongjiagou, and so I searched and searched.” Both the village name and the province were wrong — Julia was looking in the wrong place hundreds of miles to the east. Watch the emotional reunion ┬╗ Everything changed in April this year when she contacted lawyer Zhang Zhiwei, who works with volunteers in China, reuniting lost children with the parents. “Based on Jiacheng’s (Christian’s) memories we did some analysis, like his eating habits,” Zhang said. “He likes vinegar, which should be in northern China and close to Shanxi. He also likes garlic … and from his memory his family grew potato and corn, which gave us a hint of the region he used to live.” But the search really took off after Zhang posted a blog. “When I posted the story many Chinese netizens were also moved by the selfless love and actively participated, providing as much detail as possible, all hoping to fulfill her dream of finding her son’s hometown,” he said. Through their Internet searches the netizens discovered that Christian’s birth parents were doctors, and tracked them down to a city called Longde in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region through a medical essay they had written. But Christian’s birth parents weren’t who he remembered; for the first six years of his life he had been raised by his uncle Jin Xiaowang — always thinking he was his father. “My older brother wanted to have two children an older one and a younger one. They broke the one-child policy. They were afraid it might affect their jobs (and) they brought him (Christian) to me once he was born,” Jin said. So Christian grew up in a poor village called Donggou. When he was 6 years old his uncle says he was sent away to school in the city to live with his birth parents, but was told they were a foster family. After just a few months, Christian wanted to return to the village, so his father put him on a bus, and that was the last his family saw of him. Details are vague and records incomplete, but it could have been up to a year later when police found him hundreds of miles away from his home, then took him to a nearby orphanage in Luoyang, Henan Province. The orphanage and the place they found him were in the same city. That’s where he was adopted by Julia, who was doing volunteer work there. “When I found out that the birth family actually lost him at a crowded bus station and did not mean to relinquish him, my heart was broken for both Christian and the family. It was just sad.” Christian still has much to talk about with his Chinese family, “but I’m pretty clear that I wasn’t abandoned.” But simply talking won’t be easy — he’s forgotten how to speak Mandarin, and his birth relatives don’t speak English.

But this is just for a few days in China before returning to the U.S. where he has lived most of his life. His Chinese relatives all say they respect his decision about where to live, but hope that just maybe he will want to stay. “He has grown taller, he has grown bigger, but inside Chinese blood is still flowing in his veins,” said his birth father Jin Gaoke.