If you sponsor — or are thinking about sponsoring — a child in China, here are some facts to help you learn about the world’s most populous nation, its land and its people.
Bordered by 14 countries — including Mongolia to the north, Russia to the northeast, Vietnam and India to the south and Afghanistan to the west — China is an ancient and beautiful land, embodying thousands of years of history and culture. It is marked by the towering Himalaya mountains in the west, the 13,000-mile-long Great Wall of China, winding from east to west, and the massive Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world.
With more than 1.4 billion people, China is also the world’s most populous nation. About 61% of the country’s inhabitants live in highly dense urban areas, such as Shanghai (28.5 million people) and Beijing (21.3 million people), with many migrating to cities in search of work.
Today, China boasts the world’s second-largest economy, but its wealth is not distributed equally. Many children and families in rural communities live on less than $1.90 a day. Since December 2019, the nation has been hit with another challenge — Covid-19, which began its global proliferation in the city of Wuhan. The effects of the pandemic have had an impact on all aspects of life in China, including the nation’s economy.
In addition to Covid-19, recent natural disasters, including record heatwaves and droughts, have caused food prices in China to soar. Basic living costs in the nation have skyrocketed due to global inflation, and all of these challenges have affected families in Holt’s programs.
Holt began working in China in 1992, first uniting children in China with families in the U.S. through international adoption. In the years since, Holt’s mission has evolved from an international adoption focus to developing numerous programs and services for the most vulnerable children and families in China. In China, Holt sponsors support family strengthening programs that focus on education to lift children and families out of poverty. Sponsors also provide medical and nutritional care to children living in foster homes and orphanages.
1.45 billion people (est., 2022)
Mandarin, also called Putonghua (“common language”)
3.705 million square miles, slightly smaller than the U.S.
China’s climate ranges from subarctic in the north to subtropical in the south. During the summer wet season, monsoons cause frequent floods that are both deadly and destructive. Sandstorms are also common in the nation’s drylands.
Folk religion, 22%; Buddhist, 18%; Christian, 5%; Muslim, 2%; unaffiliated, 52%
56 ethnic groups are officially recognized in China. The Han Chinese is the largest group, at more than 91% of the population.
Type of Government
Chinese Communist Party-led state
Chinese has seven major national holidays, which celebrate the nation’s culture, history and working people.
Lunar New Year — also known as the Spring Festival — is the most important holiday in China. It begins on the first new moon of the year and ends 15 days later at the full moon. Lunar New Year is marked by banquets, family gatherings, carnivals, dragon dances and firework displays. At the start of Lunar New Year, children receive red envelopes with money (“red pocket” money) for good fortune.
The Lantern Festival takes place on the final day of Lunar New Year. At night, children hang red paper lanterns in the street as a way to let go of the past and usher in the coming year. The lanterns often contain riddles, and those who guess the correct answer may receive a small gift or prize. Families also gather together to eat traditional foods like rice balls with sweet fillings. The round shape of the rice balls is said to symbolize “togetherness” and bring the family harmony, happiness and luck in the new year.
The Mid-Autumn Festival — also known as the Moon Festival — has been celebrated in China for more than 3,000 years. It typically takes place in the month of September or October, at the time of year when the moon is at its brightest and fullest. In Chinese culture, the full moon symbolizes reunion, so this is a time for families to gather together. During the Moon Festival, families eat (and exchange) moon cakes, a small, round pastry stuffed with red beans, nuts, meat or other ingredients. They hang colorful paper lanterns in trees and outside their homes, and sit outdoors to admire the moon — a symbol of peace, prosperity and family reunion.
Chinese Food & Drink
Chinese cuisine is rich and diverse, varying in taste and style from region to region. Dishes from the Sichuan province are bold and spicy in flavor, for example, while dishes from the coastal Guangdong province may be rich in seafood. Tofu, noodles, potatoes, rice and other grains are staples of the Chinese diet, and tea is widely consumed.
Some common Chinese dishes include:
- Steamed or boiled dumplings, filled with minced meat, such as pork, and/or chopped vegetables
- Hot pot, a flavorful broth to which thinly sliced meats, seafood, vegetables, dumplings, tofu and/or other ingredients may be added
- Rice noodles, topped with beef, bamboo shoots, beans, peanuts and shallots
- Chow mein, a stir-fried dish of noodles, meat (usually chicken, beef, shrimp or pork), onions and celery
- Fried rice, to which eggs, vegetables, seafood, meat or other leftovers may be added
- Mapo tofu, a dish consisting of bean curd and minced meat in a spicy sauce
- Char siu or roast meat, often eaten with rice or noodles
- Beijing roast duck, often consumed with thin pancakes and a sauce
- Crayfish, stewed in a broth with ginger, garlic, pepper and spices
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Chinese tea ceremony — an elegant ritual that involves the preparation and presentation of tea — originated in the Tang dynasty (618 A.D. – 907 A.D.). In modern China, it is often held on important occasions such as weddings, and also as a way to welcome guests into one’s home.
- Eating is an important way of socializing and building relationships among family, friends and business associates in China.
- The Chinese typically eat three meals a day, with dinner being the most hearty.
- Chopsticks are used at most meals.
- Spoons are used for eating soup, but the Chinese do not use knives as most foods are already cut up when prepared.
- Various dishes are placed at the center of the table and served family style. Most main dishes are eaten with rice.
- Elders, young children and guests are usually served first.
- The eldest person in the family is given the “seat of honor,” typically the one facing the entrance of the room.
Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the World Health Organization has recorded more than 10 million confirmed cases in the nation and more than 34,000 deaths. Every aspect of life in China has been impacted by the pandemic, most notably its economy.
In the past few years, lockdowns in China’s major industrial centers, such as Shanghai, have forced businesses and factories to close. This has had a big impact on families across China, including those in Holt’s programs. Family members who have migrated from rural areas to cities to find work have lost jobs, forcing them to return to their rural villages or relocate to other cities in search of employment. Many Holt-sponsored families have not only suffered a loss of income, but have also seen an inflationary rise in the cost of food and other non-food items as a result of Covid-19.
Learn how Holt donors and sponsors have helped families in China during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Children “Left Behind”
Today in China, millions of children are growing up without their parents. Many are left behind in rural villages in the care of elderly grandparents or relatives who struggle to provide for them on their own meager resources. In some cases, parents leave their children when they divorce, or when they remarry and their new spouse won’t accept children from a previous marriage. But most parents leave when they migrate to cities in search of work. They leave out of poverty and desperation. Children who are left behind often experience a profound sense of loneliness, loss, neglect, abuse and poverty.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened these problems. In a recent study of 10- to 15-year-olds and adolescents in rural China, researchers found that children left behind suffered a host of psychological, academic and physical challenges. Because of long parental absences during the pandemic, Covid-19 lockdowns and limited social interactions with peers due to school closures, children fell into deeper states of sadness, boredom and depression.
Taking online classes often proved challenging for these children, making it difficult for them to keep up academically. “Many children did not have access to Wi-Fi or to the devices and equipment they needed,” says Jian Chen, Holt’s vice president of China regional programs. “Also, many did not have a home environment suitable for studying, so this was a great challenge.”
In many cases, children and their caregivers suffered from hunger as well. Due to social lockdowns and the closing of businesses, migrant parents were unable to work and send money home to their family for food and other essentials.
Learn how Holt donors and sponsors are helping children left behind in rural areas of China.
Food Insecurity & Malnutrition
Over the past two decades, rapid development in China’s urban centers has lifted millions of people out of poverty. But in rural communities today, children and families continue to live on less than $1.90 per day. According to the World Food Programme, about 150.8 million people in China are malnourished, and roughly 9.4% of children are stunted, meaning they are significantly shorter than average for their age.
On top of that, China is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. More than 186 million people are exposed to the effects of droughts and floods, which are estimated to reduce the country’s potential grain output by about 20 million tons a year. In the summer of 2022, China was hit by its most severe heatwave in six decades. The heatwave exacerbated a drought that has impacted food production and costs throughout the nation. Overall, food prices in China rose by 6.1% in August 2022, with fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, cooking oil and pork showing the biggest increases.
“Beyond all of these issues, the overall economy in China is suffering,” says Jian. “Many new college graduates this year will not be able to find full-time employment,” perhaps leading to further food insecurity among families.
Learn how Holt donors and sponsors help address malnutrition and hunger-related diseases among children in China.
Rising Global Costs Endanger Children
Basic living costs have skyrocketed due to inflation, devastating children and families who were already living in poverty.
Education in China is free and compulsory until the ninth grade, but families still face a lot of costs to educate their children. These include books, uniforms, supplies and “supplementary” classroom costs. Many families also live in rural or mountainous areas without access to a nearby school. For these families, their only option is to pay room and board for their child to attend a boarding school far from home. Collectively, these fees can overwhelm families living in poverty and cause children to drop out of school early.
Beyond these concerns, inflation in China has had an impact on education-related costs, with items such as uniforms, school supplies, books and bus prices (for boarding students) rising as much as 10% in the past year. Because of these price hikes, students in Holt’s family strengthening programs face greater economic pressure and worry about whether they can afford their school expenses. “Families that were already facing financial challenges are now really struggling,” says Jian. “And as priorities shifted in households, the children’s needs were among the first to be sacrificed.”
Learn how Holt sponsors and donors are helping students in China receive the gift of an education.
Holt Donors Help Orphans in China Receive Critical Care at Peace House
In 2011, Holt began overseeing a special medical foster home called Peace House for children in orphanage care who are in need of critical medical procedures. At Peace House, children receive pre- and post-operative care, and each child is matched with a medically trained caregiver who provides one-on-one, round-the-clock care. The care children receive at Peace House helps them grow strong enough for surgery. Post surgery, they return to Peace House to recover and heal. Children come to Peace House in Tianjin from orphanages all over China and receive the best possible medical care and resources in the country.
Learn how caregivers at Peace House helped one little boy in China get the critical care he needed.
Learn more about Holt’s work in China!
See how sponsors and donors create a brighter, more hopeful future for children and families in China!