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Chinese Lessons: An American mother teaches her children how to be Chinese in China

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When single mother Patti Waldmeir decides to raise her two adopted Chinese daughters close to their culture, the whole family embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. They move to Shanghai when Lucy and Grace are seven and eight and stay until they are in high school. Waldmeir, an award-winning author and foreign correspondent, interrogates everyone from orphanage officials When single mother Patti Waldmeir decides to raise her two adopted Chinese daughters close to their culture, the whole family embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. They move to Shanghai when Lucy and Grace are seven and eight and stay until they are in high school. Waldmeir, an award-winning author and foreign correspondent, interrogates everyone from orphanage officials to masseurs, from trash pickers to child brides, to uncover the human story of why so many Chinese girls were sent overseas for adoption. She makes an astounding discovery in a Chinese alleyway, and takes her girls deep into the streets of Shanghai and the vast countryside of China, to explore what it means to be Chinese—and American at the same time. Funny, heartwarming, gut-wrenching, and raw, this book examines important questions about identity, race and culture—through the prism of one extraordinary family’s entertaining adventures in China.


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When single mother Patti Waldmeir decides to raise her two adopted Chinese daughters close to their culture, the whole family embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. They move to Shanghai when Lucy and Grace are seven and eight and stay until they are in high school. Waldmeir, an award-winning author and foreign correspondent, interrogates everyone from orphanage officials When single mother Patti Waldmeir decides to raise her two adopted Chinese daughters close to their culture, the whole family embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. They move to Shanghai when Lucy and Grace are seven and eight and stay until they are in high school. Waldmeir, an award-winning author and foreign correspondent, interrogates everyone from orphanage officials to masseurs, from trash pickers to child brides, to uncover the human story of why so many Chinese girls were sent overseas for adoption. She makes an astounding discovery in a Chinese alleyway, and takes her girls deep into the streets of Shanghai and the vast countryside of China, to explore what it means to be Chinese—and American at the same time. Funny, heartwarming, gut-wrenching, and raw, this book examines important questions about identity, race and culture—through the prism of one extraordinary family’s entertaining adventures in China.

30 review for Chinese Lessons: An American mother teaches her children how to be Chinese in China

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    As a parent of two children adopted from China I share a few of the author's sentiments and recalled many memories. The ceaseless questioning of her children however was annoying and tiresome. Not one to leave many books unfinished I was quite relieved to be done with it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    I found the author's description of and investigation into the process and motives of Chinese adoption very interesting. Moving to Shanghai with her girls to allow them to discover / appreciate their Chinese genetics was a brave move but seems to have been crippled by the insulating life she chose to provide for them there, attending a select International School and living in a huge flat. From the comments she relays from the girls it seems to have left them self-centered and lacking in empathy I found the author's description of and investigation into the process and motives of Chinese adoption very interesting. Moving to Shanghai with her girls to allow them to discover / appreciate their Chinese genetics was a brave move but seems to have been crippled by the insulating life she chose to provide for them there, attending a select International School and living in a huge flat. From the comments she relays from the girls it seems to have left them self-centered and lacking in empathy and understanding of others not so fortunate to entertain a life of wealth. They evolved the strangest sort of Americana culture, that attained over the Internet. It would have been fascinating if the girls were actually immersed in the everyday childhood of a Shanghai resident. Instead they end up doing things like volunteering only because it will look good on college applications and milking the adoption story to gain sympathy and privilege when internally they admit to not really caring. Their quick and dismissive summary of the massive and complex nation of India, even considering everyday teen angst, says a lot about their value system. I also found the author's selective moral judgments off-putting. She was very focused on finding guilt in the Chinese system of adoption over the years, especially when it could afford her some guilt for participating in the process. And yet, she is fine to ignore any investigation into whether it is moral to utilize servant labor (among other topics), even at one point considering a fleet of servants for a mansion they had a lease on in Indonesia. The 'sorry girls I won't be able to afford your college if I don't continue to work for FT' chatter mixed with the 'but if I do continue working for FT in Indonesia it must be in a massive mansion' was just bizarre. Overall, foreign adoption is a complex topic and certain aspects of the author's investigation were interesting but possibly more interesting was how the author demonstrated that how we look and even our genetics are a poor barometer for the national affinity and culture we hold within.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    I'm awfully glad Waldmeir was not my mother.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sheri M

    I absolutely devoured this long-anticipated book in a single, all-night session. A must-read for parents of kids adopted from China, and anyone interested in the effects of the One Child Policy from a multiplicity of views. Patti is a talented, world-renowned writer whose prose sings off the pages with visceral reality and gripping emotion. Yeah. It's THAT good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Solak

    A fun romp from an author native to my current hometown. I don't know her personally, but after reading her memoir, I feel as though I'd like her. An honest look at single motherhood, adoption, living in China, and survival. Great explanation of the now defunct one-child policy, humor, friendship and love.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karon Veazey

    Do not agree From the very beginning, the author has a major problem with China. I also have two daughters adopted from China and have a deep respect for the birth mothers and the orphanage care system. The author is obsessed with the $3000 donation to the orphanages. I'm not quit sure why since this is a very minuscule amount compared to a domestic adoption.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Shepherd

    Once again, I find myself thankful that I read the book before reading others' reviews. I knew nothing about Chinese customs, other than the population control measures, and I knew nothing about the procedures to adopt Chinese children. I found the writing to be upbeat, happy. I did get a bit irritated by the author's intense focus on the girls' learning about their heritage, but I probably would have done the same thing!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lrvla

    Wonderful book. —honest, warm, self deprecating, funny, sensitive, intelligent, unflinching, well researched,,,, both light hearted and deeply felt,, As a secular, well traveled, somewhat adventurous older single Mom, the book resonated with me in a way none of the other china adoption books ever have. The author undertook many of the same adventures with her daughters I hoped to take with mine and plunged into many of the same conversations, questions and experiences,,, It was a very satisfying Wonderful book. —honest, warm, self deprecating, funny, sensitive, intelligent, unflinching, well researched,,,, both light hearted and deeply felt,, As a secular, well traveled, somewhat adventurous older single Mom, the book resonated with me in a way none of the other china adoption books ever have. The author undertook many of the same adventures with her daughters I hoped to take with mine and plunged into many of the same conversations, questions and experiences,,, It was a very satisfying read

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ange

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I can’t believe a Chinese American (or any non-white American, really) did not go through this book and tear it to pieces before it could have been published. As a Canadian person of colour and adoptive mother of a Chinese girl, I am so offended about how she refers to race and how they “don’t look like what they are” (she means “white on the inside”) repeatedly. Her obsession with describing adopted Chinese girls as “beauties” (oooh how exotic) is creepy. I’m also horrified at her accounts of b I can’t believe a Chinese American (or any non-white American, really) did not go through this book and tear it to pieces before it could have been published. As a Canadian person of colour and adoptive mother of a Chinese girl, I am so offended about how she refers to race and how they “don’t look like what they are” (she means “white on the inside”) repeatedly. Her obsession with describing adopted Chinese girls as “beauties” (oooh how exotic) is creepy. I’m also horrified at her accounts of being wasted when being the sole caregiver to her daughters due to bad culture shock. She doesn’t even seem to realize that that behaviour could cause children to be removed from a home to be placed for adoption but she, a rich white American who was doing unsafe/neglectful things, was given the honour and responsibility to adopt someone else’s biological children. The author’s efforts to be edgy and quoting her daughters’ flippant comments about how they are happy to be adopted because they don’t want to be peasants disgust me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter Bomer

    Dissapointing Ought to have been an compelling story based on what was clearly an amazing family experience. Sadly it all feels quite superficial; not much by way of insight into 'Chineseness' and what it would take to kindle it in oneself as a Chinese orphan raised overseas. More a series of family anecdotes, told in brief, than an awakening of cultural understanding and insight.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Neuroren

  12. 5 out of 5

    annette lofft

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paulettel

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rita Wielatz

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike Sedivy

  16. 5 out of 5

    Diane Maurer

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kanli

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Renzoni

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura G

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chia-Yu Ku

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  23. 4 out of 5

    RH

  24. 4 out of 5

    HENRY I LEE

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Henderson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kristine Cerchiara

  27. 4 out of 5

    Darcy Brouillette

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary Liz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Balázs

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna Graham

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