Developmental Disabilities in China: Part I

For the next few weeks, we will be featuring a multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people she met.

On May 26, 2009 I found myself 38,000 feet above the land bridge between North America and Asia on the way to Beijing, where I was invited to lead the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. People-to-People was founded by U.S. President Eisenhower and continues to be headed by his grand-daughter and endorsed by every new U.S. president. Its mission is to promote peace through understanding, based on the principal that if people from different countries meet to exchange ideas and learn from one another, peace is an inevitable result.

Beijing was uncharacteristically sunny and clear most of the time we were there, but our agenda was packed with information sessions and tours of programs that provided services to people with developmental disabilities. At the on-site orientation session, everyone introduced themselves: Marnie Hinton-Dry, a psychiatrist from St. Albert with a huge job and lots of experience; Karen Tanguay, a psychiatrist from Calgary, originally from Scotland; Rick Brennan, the Executive Director of the Glen Eden School, here in Vancouver; David Miyauchi, Director of in-patient psychiatry in Calgary and his wife, Betty MacRae, also medical specialist; Dagmar Hoheneck, a psychiatrist originally from Germany, but now working in California; Patti Hagarty, a psychologist from Grande Prairie Alberta who was joined by her fabulous mother-in-law, Norma Bresden from Nanaimo; Albina Veltman, a young psychiatrist from Stoney Creek Ontario and her guest Shona Torrance, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology; Bruce Chenoweth, a senior psychiatrist from Sydney Australia (who told me that the stereotypical Canadian stereotype made love in kayaks and apologized to ATM machines); Irvin Hamilton, a psychologist from Bangor, Michigan; and Herman Wouters, a psychologist and instructor from Belgium. We had the most congenial, diverse, dedicated group possible. I was overjoyed at the number of psychiatrists and psychologists I was with who all had an interest in people with developmental disabilities.

china trip
china trip

alanna in china
china trip
china trip slide show

After leading the on-site orientation, I introduced Mike Bowers, Senior Director of Health and Safety, responsible for the well-being of the over 13,500 travelers that People-to-People may have around the world at any given time and Riley, our national guide for the duration of our tour. Riley presented a PowerPoint on the 4,000-year long history of China and its recent explosion in growth and development.

China’s current challenges include:

  • The global economic slow-down
  • An aging population, with fewer children to support previous generations
  • Increasing wealth and quality-of-life disparity, particularly between rural and urban communities
  • Increasing erosion of the traditional family unit
  • Environmental degradation

This all sounded very familiar, but the intensity of the problems is far more pronounced in China, with 1.4 billion people (20% of the world’s population) and a rapidly emerging economy. The Chinese government seems to implement policies that are effective versus those based on any particular ideology. The one underlying philosophy continues to be Confucian, stressing filial piety (honoring family), humility, intelligence, benevolence and fidelity, which makes it quite different from our individualistic, ego-driven, pop-culture in the West. Confucius lived during extremely turbulent times in China’s history, the 550’s BCE, but one could argue the times we all live in today are quite similar. China first united under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BCE (almost 2,000 years before North America was discovered by Europeans) and remained quite isolated until the 16th and 17th centuries. By the 1840’s, the Opium Wars erupted with Britain because up to 70% of the population was becoming addicted to opium from India that was being sold by the British. Eventually, opium was burned and outlawed, the British were evicted from China and Hong Kong became their only colony in Southeast Asia.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Vancouver

Sun Yat Sen Garden - Photo courtesy of Tourism Vancouver

In 1911, the Last Emperor resigned during a revolution led by China’s hero, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, who has a dedicated garden in the heart of Vancouver in addition to his monuments in China. In 1949, Mao Tse Tung’s Communists defeated Chiang Kai Shek’s Republicans, who fled to Taiwan, and assumed total control over the country. From 1966 to 1976, China lived through Mao’s cultural revolution, which marked a time in their history when life was very much like that of North Korea today. When Mao died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping, his successor, ‘opened’ China to the West in 1978.

92% of the present population of China has descended from Han people. The remaining 8% represents 55 ethnic minorities, including Manchurians, Tibetans, and Mongolians. Only members of ethnic minorities and parents who were both single children are permitted to have more than one child under Chinese law. If a couple has an unauthorized second child, then they either have to pay a fine equivalent of up to $25,000 US or the child is denied registration, which means they essentially do not legitimately exist. In the US, the pro-life leadership believe that every conception should result in a full-term pregnancy. In China the pro-environment leadership, with a population of 1.4 billion and only 7% arable land, believes that having a child is a privilege that must be controlled and limited. In both views, women are denied the right to choose. There are many women and couples in China who would love to have more than one child and the limitation of that right has consequences that are just as personal and emotional as the limitation of abortion rights in the West. Both philosophies seem to derive from the need for children – the West was built on big families necessary to populate a big new country while the East has experienced the impact of over-population and environmental degradation too severely to contemplate many more mouths to feed.

There are currently more males in the under 50 age group but more females in the over 50 demographic. Disability rates are much higher in rural areas, with big regional differences. People with disabilities used to be hidden away or quietly cared for by their families, but since the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and the demonstration of the abilities of paratheletes, increasing attention is being paid to involvement and participation for all people with physical and mental challenges.

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2 Responses to Developmental Disabilities in China: Part I

  1. […] Developmental Disabilities in China: Part 2 This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read the first part, follow this link. […]

  2. […] This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read the first part, follow this link. […]

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