Writing Questions
Empires of Sand
China Run
Sign the Guestbook!
Li's Space

Contact David
via E-mail

Book Reviews
Foreign & Recorded
Book Origins
Photo Gallery
Read Chapter 1
Community Reading

Buy it now at:

or through


A Featured Alternate of the:
  Book of the Month Club
  Literary Guild
  Doubleday Book Club
  Mystery Guild


Frequently Asked Questions

What was the inspiration for China Run?

This child, abandoned on the steps of a police station in eastern China.  There was only this photograph to introduce her, and a brief dossier from the Municipal People's Hospital:

Sex:  Female
Birthdate:  March 20, 1996

Spine: Normal
Urogenital System:  Normal
Lip and Palate: Normal

Eyes:  Normal
Ears:  Normal
Heart: Normal
Lung: Normal

Teeth:  None
Height: 60 cm
Weight: 5.9 kg.
Chest X-ray: Normal
HB Test: Negative

Conclusion: Healthy in general, umbilical hernia

Not much to go on.  All we knew was that she'd been abandoned as a result of China's one-child policy. 

It took a blizzard of paperwork, a year of waiting, and about fifteen thousand dollars to meet her.  My wife, 8-year-old son, and I traveled to China to pick her up.  We called her Li, and it was love at first sight.

While waiting in a Chinese hotel with her for her papers to come through, I reflected on a story I had heard of an American woman adopting in Fujian Province who, after a few days with her child, was told that an error had been made--that she’d been given ‘the wrong one.’  As I held Li I had to ask myself—what would I do if someone said I had to give her back?  Even though I might get another one, is a child so easily exchanged?  At what point is a bond between parent and child irrevocable? Would I give her up, or would I fight?  That was the genesis of the book.

What is the one-child policy?  And how has it led to so many abandoned babies?

Chairman Mao encouraged large families, wanting bodies to propel his Great Leap Forward.  Only after his death did the Chinese government begin grappling with overpopulation.  The "one-child policy" was the result, in which most families were limited to one child.

There is a long-standing preference for males in the Chinese culture.  Parents need a son to work the fields, a son to care for them in old age, a son to carry on the family name, a son to sweep their graves.  If a man has three sons and two daughters and you ask him how many children he has, the response will often be 'three.'  Daughters need dowries and then marry off, leaving to care for their husband's family.  Consequently, if the first-born child under the new policy is a girl, she will often be abandoned, or worse, giving the family an opportunity to try again for a boy.  For twenty years, the result has been a huge number of baby girls flooding the streets and orphanages of China.

To most Westerners, this “one-child” policy and rampant disposal of its daughters seems unspeakably cruel and heartless.  What is your view?                    

It is unspeakably cruel, the cold-blooded answer of a totalitarian regime to an admittedly intractable problem of overpopulation.  In the fourth quarter of 2001, the quotas had not been met in Huaiji, a poor county in the province of Guangdong, and twenty thousand women were forced to have abortions.  This is not about pro-choice or pro-life.  It has to do with government intrusion into private lives, with government ripping families apart, while not providing adequate contraception or family planning education.  The human suffering caused by such draconian measures cannot be over-emphasized, yet the Communist Party Central Committee has announced its satisfaction with the policy, which will continue until 2050. 

With the abundance of Chinese babies abandoned, why does China place “special-needs” restrictions on so many foreigners? 

There are children in the system who might not otherwise be adopted—children who often have minor, correctible defects.  Adoptive parents have a right to reject a child who does not seem to fit their needs, though of course that creates its own heartbreak.

Throughout CHINA RUN, various members among your large cast of Chinese bureaucrats, law enforcers, government officials, and corporate powerbrokers echo a profound concern over saving face.  Why do you think this ancient emphasis on honor remains such a powerful force in modern China? 

‘Face’ is the essence of Chinese character.  Rooted in Confucianism, it drives behavior at all levels of life.  Westerners who are successful in dealing in China have recognized the issue, and are careful never to place the Chinese in a position in which they lose face.

In your novel, the spokesperson for the American consulate appears unsympathetic and unwilling to help his fellow Americans in their quest to keep their adoptive babies.  What power does the American Embassy truly have to protect and defend American citizens within the totalitarian confines of the People’s Republic of China?                            

Only the power of diplomacy and the power to persuade—and then only where a political will exists to try.

Equally chilling is your depiction of the repression of a CNN reporter at the hands of Chinese officials.  What is the real extent of freedom for the foreign press in China today?        

There is no freedom for the foreign or domestic press in China today. Chinese reporters face imprisonment, while foreign reporters and photographers are harassed, sometimes beaten, and occasionally expelled for writing stories that displease the government.  Journalists are sometimes detained until they write ‘self criticisms.’  Even in liberal Hong Kong, a prominent China correspondent and author was fired last year from the South China Morning Post for offending his superiors.  It remains a classic battle of pen and sword.

What impact, if any, do American trade policies have on the treatment and fate of Chinese orphans?       

It helps create abandoned children, or at any rate does nothing to reduce their number.  Along with a multitude of other human rights violations, China’s brutal population control policies are ignored by the West in favor of ‘economic engagement,’ in the belief that free market forces will bring about change more rapidly than economic sanctions and aggressive diplomacy.  One must ask one of the uncountable thousands of cast-off children—almost all girls—whether that policy is effective.  Our voices of outrage have been stilled, purchased for a dollar.

What are the major obstacles for Americans eager to adopt a healthy Chinese infant?  What is the most important advice you could currently offer hopeful parents?   

Be patient.  There is endless red tape and paper.  You will have to bare every aspect of your life, and then a total stranger will come into your home, to decide whether you're fit to be a parent.  Two years can pass before you hold your child, and the cost runs between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars.  It isn't nearly as much fun as making a baby the other way, yet the result is still a miracle of perseverance and chance, and worth every aggravation.

What would you most like readers to come to know about the complex culture and everyday people of China from their encounter with CHINA RUN?

That the Chinese people love their babies as much as anyone on earth.  They comply with the one-child policy because the price of disobedience is ruination.  The government will levy impossible fines, deny their unauthorized children access to health care and education, and even bulldoze their homes.  Although an underground movement exists to resist this brutality, in which ordinary citizens become criminals in order to protect babies, too often they do not succeed.  When they fail, infanticide, forced abortion, and devastated families are the result.

Do you think there is any systematic corruption in China’s orphanages?  Any abuse of children?

Orphanages are rarely open to outsiders, so one can only surmise that the pervasive corruption infecting nearly every other level of Chinese society exists within them as well.  I don’t know of any systematic abuse of children, other than the underlying one-child policy itself.  As the population of China becomes lopsided in favor of men, a market in human flesh is naturally created.   By the admission of the Chinese government itself, literally hundreds of thousands of girls are being kidnapped from backward rural areas, and sold to men who lack wives.  That is nothing less than slavery, an unintended consequence of heavy-handed social engineering.  There are now 117 men to 100 women in China.  What will happen as that ratio increases to 120?  130?