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August 26, 2013

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Granny seeks identity papers for black ‘grandson’

Thirteen years ago this month, Zhu Shuibao stumbled across a bamboo basket in the grass alongside a small lane near her home in the city’s Pudong area. Inside was a black baby and a note attached saying he was born on August 1.

Not knowing what to do, Zhu took the eight-day-old child home with her. She named him Zhu Junlong, or “army dragon.”

“I’m the kind of person who feels pity for stray cats and dogs, not to mention a baby,” said 69-year-old Zhu, . “The little boy had heat rash all over his body, but was quiet when I took him from the basket into my arms. Looking into his eyes, I knew there was a unique bond between us.”

Unique indeed. Now entering the eighth grade in Jianping Middle School, young Zhu has neither a birth certificate nor residency permit (hukou). His parents and country of origin are unknown. As far as Shanghai authorities are concerned, he is a non-person.

But that’s not how Granny Zhu sees it.

“I want him to have access to higher education, to get a proper job and to have a future,” she said.

Young Zhu towers over other children his age at 175 centimeters tall. He loves video games and science fiction. Doctors who have examined the boy said he probably is of African descent, though they can’t be sure.

Zhu had two sons and a daughter, but no grandchildren at the time she found the basket. When her younger son married, she hoped he might take over parenting responsibilities for orphan Zhu, but the newlyweds were too preoccupied with their own newborn child a year later. So the lad has lived ever since with Zhu and her husband, two farm pensioners who treat him like a grandson and have never attempted to gloss over his past.

No official response

They have been trying for more than 10 years to convince authorities to give the boy identity papers.

“Without hukou or identity, you can do nothing,” Zhu Shuibao said. “You can’t get a job or buy a house.”

Paperwork to give the boy an identity has been shuffled up the line, from the Pudong New Area Civil Affairs Bureau to the Shanghai Public Security Bureau. To date, there’s been no response. Zhu said the local police station called last year saying the boy would have to undergo a paternity test, but there’s been no follow-up.

“We raise the matter with city-level offices, but we get no response,” said Xiao Qing, a staff member with the adoption office of the civil affairs bureau. “The Shanghai Public Security Bureau hasn’t told us whether they need more paperwork.”

Granny Zhu is baffled.

“After so many years, I still can’t understand why it’s so difficult to give a person an identity,” she said. “He was born and raised here after all, even if his parents were foreign.”

When he was four years old, Zhu contemplated sending the boy to a charity organization, but when she took him to the Shanghai Welfare Center for Children, they were turned away because the boy had no personal documents.

“He had no idea why we went there,” Zhu said. “He gripped my arm and kept saying, ‘Granny, let’s go back home.’ Well, I tried my best, and I just couldn’t leave my boy if it came down to it.”

The boy’s plight has periodically surfaced in the media. Zhu said she was once approached by a man who said he was in business and would provide a good life for the boy.

“He was asking how much money we wanted to part with the boy,” recalled Zhu. “He talked like it was a business proposition. It sounded fishy and we would never act irresponsibly.”

Zhu Junlong lives with his “grandparents” in an apartment on Yuqing Road in Pudong. He speaks both Mandarin and Shanghai dialect.

He shared a bed with his grandmother for years, but now has a bed of his own. He was always shy about going out, preferring to stay indoors with his nose in a computer device.

Helpful teachers

Despite his lack of identity, young Zhu was allowed to enroll at Yuqiao Primary School as an exceptional case. His lack of pre-school education caused him to struggle at school in the beginning. He often skipped classes and hid in trees.

“His teachers in both primary and middle school have been extremely helpful,” Granny Zhu said. “Children can be so thoughtless. When he first entered primary school, his classmates refused to shake hands with him. The teacher had to explain that he was no different from them except that he was taller and darker.”

When Zhu entered Jianping Middle School, he started to become active in sports and make friends. His teacher Xia Yan said he has intelligence and a pleasing personality. Because his grandmother is barely literate, teachers at the school have volunteered to give Zhu one-on-one tutoring to help him catch up on his studies.

“I was concerned at the beginning that other students might treat Zhu Junlong differently,” Xia said. “My worries proved unfounded. He was quiet the first week but soon melded into the class.”

Still, the boy is growing up with a sense of incompleteness. He often tells his granny he will leave China one day.

“But don’t worry, granny,” he adds. “I’ll earn a lot of money and buy a big villa. You can live with me there.”

He said if his natural mother ever reappears in his life, he would take care of her, too. “I believe it must have been a difficult decision for her to abandon me,” he said.

Zhu Shuibao and her husband, 72, draw a monthly pension of 3,600 yuan (US$556), plus 800 yuan for the child.

“We’ve never been wealthy,” she said. “But we will see to our grandson’s basic needs. He is our one concern and we will raise him until he’s at least 18. We will bring him up to be a good person. We will continue to fight for his identity certificate. That’s about all we can do.”





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