Profile of a Chinese baby trafficker

Scott Tong May 5, 2010

Duan Yueneng is a convicted baby trafficker involved one of China’s most infamous illegal adoption scandals. Recently out of prison for his crimes, he told us in an interview that he’s not the one to blame for the broader issue of illegal adoptions in China, which is the focus of our radio story, The Dark Side of Chinese Adoptions.

His mom, who helped Duan in what he called a family business of baby trafficking, agrees:

“If it was not for my good intention, I wouldn’t pick up babies and my daughter wouldn’t be in prison now,” she said in an interview. “Other people were doing the same thing, but didn’t get busted because they have better connections and more money. We all had the same purpose: to help orphanages do a good thing.”

For Duan Yueneng, though, the issue runs much deeper than a national trend. He tried to abandon his own daughter.

When his first wife gave birth to their second daughter, he tried to abandon the baby girl so that he could still have a chance to try one more time for a son. He abandoned his second daughter a couple times, left her on the street. But took her back every time because no one wanted a baby girl.

In his first wife’s family, village family-planning enforcers went to confiscate everything in Duan’s home and his wife’s parents’ home worth more than about 60 cents in American dollars. The first wife felt ashamed because she couldn’t produce a son and she brought troubles to her families. She ended up killing herself.

Duan’s mom said the first wife was very pragmatic. She said “my first daughter-in-law couldn’t produce a son. She felt that’s bad. That’s her job and she couldn’t do it, so she committed suicide.”

Duan’s Little Emperor

Duan has a son from his second wife (currently in jail, convicted of baby trafficking). He claimed girls are equally good, though I can see his mom and him spoil his only son. His 17-year-old and 15-year-old daughters were busy cooking lunch for the whole family. Duan said he’s saved a lot of baby girls lives, just as he finally saved his own.

Duan doesn’t think himself as a baby trafficker, despite his conviction. He then said that if he is a baby trafficker, then government departments and orphanages are too, in the name of the Communist Party. For them, he says, buying babies is okay but illegal for Duan’s family.

A risky business

Duan’s family’s business was not always a success. In 1999, the Zhuzhou, Hunan orphanage officials came to Changning orphanage to get babies. They asked Duan’s mother to bring them about $90 American dollars in car far plus care taking fees equal to about $400 American dollars.

When Duan’s mother got to Zhuzhou, the director’s husband who is a policeman put Duan’s mom in custody for a month, because the source of the babies was unclear. Duan’s family never did any business with Zhuzhou orphanage after that.

Cecilia Chen co-wrote to this story.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.