Forgotten Heroes: Lou Xiaoying

Forgotten Heroes is a series of posts about extraordinary men and women who are (probably) not remembered by the average person.  Previous heroes include Charles Loring Brace,  Emily Murphy and Jane Jacobs

If you know of a forgotten hero who should be included in this series let me know about him or her in the comment section or via my contact form

Time: 1972

Place: China

While out collecting trash one day to recycle or sell in order to support her family Lou Xiaoying heard a baby cry. The infant had been abandoned on the street and was surrounded by garbage.

Lou was already raising one biological daughter in a culture and time when daughters were not considered as socially valuable as sons. A son takes care of his parents in their old age but daughters are absorbed into their husband’s family. It would have been so easy for her to continue walking and ignore what she had just seen or, at most, to bring the child to an orphanage or leave her in a more densely populated area so someone else would find her.

Instead Lou picked the baby up, took her home and adopted her.

Over the next four decades this scene was replayed dozens of times. Most of the babies Lou discovered ended up being adopted by family or friends but several of them, including the girl she found in 1972, became permanent members of her immediate family.

How did abandoning babies become such a common occurrence? In the early 1970s China had a population problem. For decades infant mortality had been declining  and average life expectancies surging. Until the 1960s the Chinese government actually encouraged their people to have large families but as the population grew more rapidly this began to change.

In 1970 citizens were encouraged to delay marriage and have no more than two children. By 1979 a one child policy was set into place to slow the birth rate. It was at times brutally enforced.

One of the consequences of this law was that parents began to abandon baby girls in ever-increasing numbers. If your culture believes that only a son will financially and emotionally support you in your old age and if you’re only allowed to have one child many people will choose to have a son as their only (official) child

I know this isn’t a typical Forgotten Heroes post: Lou Xiaoying is still alive and  her legacy has not yet been settled but this is a story that needed to be told.


Your challenge today is to look suffering in the face. Those of us living in western cultures will almost certainly never find abandoned babies on our streets and even if we did there are a long list of families waiting to adopt such children.

But there are many other ordinary crises happening just outside your door. We might not know how to solve them  (yet) or what form they may take but so long as there are compassionate people in this world willing to help there is hope.

In my neighbourhood you cannot walk down the street without passing at least one homeless person. I haven’t figured out the best way to help them yet but I do smile and say hello when they make eye contact. Most people refuse to acknowledge their existence.

What will you be doing?

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