Fateful rendezvous

Husband and wife went to ‘Broken Bridge’ every year since 2004 — and finally the person they were looking for showed up

Kati Pohler on the Broken Bridge in China. (BBC / YouTube)

The deep pain felt by two mothers, each half a world away. The curiosity about her true origin a young woman had felt since the tender age of 5. The longing and regret of a father in China. These are the tumultuous themes that surface in an incredible story presented by the BBC in the form of a short documentary directed by filmmaker Changfu Chang. The film focuses on a 20-year-old Michigan woman, who was abandoned by her parents in China as a newborn, and adopted by an American family.

China, for almost 40 years, enforced a strict one-child policy in order to control population growth. Couples who became pregnant with a second child faced harsh penalties, including steep fines and forced abortions. So, when Qian Fenxiang gave birth to her second child in 1995, she and her husband, Xu Lida, kept their newborn girl a secret. They had considered aborting the pregnancy, but decided that even if they couldn’t raise her, they could possibly give her away. Three days after the infant girl was born, that’s precisely what they did.

As the baby slept, Xu, under the cover of night, took her to an outdoor market, where he abandoned her. “We didn’t want to abandon her on the street. We had no choice,” Qian said. “I left her at 4 a.m.,” Xu said. “I had to do it. I kissed her gently,” he recalled about that fateful day. “I knew it was the final farewell.” Then, he walked away, he says in the documentary, seemingly overcome with regret. “My last memory of her is the sound of her crying.” But he’d left an emotional noted with his child, for whomever would find her.

“Our daughter, Jingzhi, was born at 10 a.m. on the 24th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, 1995,” the note read. “We have been forced by poverty and affairs of the world to abandon her. Oh, pity the hearts of fathers and mothers far and near! Thank you for saving our little daughter and taking her into your care. If the heavens have feelings, if we are brought together by fate, then let us meet again on the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou on the morning of the Qixi Festival in 10 or 20 years from now.”

The secret note Xu Lida left with his infant daughter when he abandoned her in 1995. (BBC / YouTube)

In 1996, the baby who was abandoned in the market was adopted by an American couple, Ken and Ruth Pohler. They traveled from their home in Michigan to China to adopt the baby girl. They named her Kati.

Kati, now 22, grew up in a loving family and tight-knit community. She said she was accepted, but because the community was overwhelmingly Caucasian, she’d always felt different. At the age of 5, she began to wonder about her true origins. She asked Ruth, her adoptive mother, “whose tummy she came from.”

Ruth replied that she “came from a lady’s tummy in China, but … you were born of my heart.” At the time, that explanation was enough to satisfy Kati’s 5-year-old curiosity. As she grew up, her curiosity persisted and she often would rummage through her adoption papers, but since she couldn’t read Chinese, they provided little to enlighten her on where she came from. Moreover, she was unable to read the note that her biological father had left with her when she was abandoned in 1995.

Ken says in the film that he and Ruth were deeply moved by the letter. “We thought .. if we had to give up our child, we would wonder every day where that child is. And so we wanted to give some assurance to the birth parents that Kati had a good home, that she was being taken care of well, and that we loved her very much. We needed the birth parents to know that.”

But they had reservations about a reunion actually taking place. Ruth says she feared possibly losing her daughter. “I held back on a lot of years,” Ruth says. The delay in telling Katie about the note is a point of contention between the adoptive parents and their daughter, something Katie and Ruth and Ken all acknowledge could have been handled better.

“I did not want this to happen,” Ruth admitted, her voice breaking. “But it’s going to happen .. and it’s good.”

The Broken Bridge in Hangzhou is famous a place for reunions. On July 7 each year, people who’ve been apart flock there to reunite with loved ones. Xu says he’s gone to the bridge each year since 2004, but that each time he’s gone and waited for his long lost daughter to show up, his hopes of a reunion have been dashed. Over those years, Qian and Xu’s story became a media sensation in China, which ultimately led to Kati learning that they were searching for her.

So, this past July 7, Kati traveled there for the dramatic reunion — the one her parents had always dreamed of. Both Kati and her biological parents wondered what they would say to one another upon reuniting. It was a journey that stirred up feelings of excitement and fear in Kati. Cameras were with her as she made her way halfway around the world, and followed her to the fabled meeting place. Cameras also followed her birth parents as they traveled to the rendezvous and captured the extraordinary moment on the Broken Bridge when two parents found the girl they’d been looking for all these years.

Watch the full documentary below.

Read the full story at The South China Morning Post.

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