Canadian swimmer adopted because of China’s one-child policy wins at Olympic gold

Maggie Mac Neil won the Olympic 100-meter butterfly yesterday. On Weibo several Chinese users wondered what would have become of this 21-year-old girl if she had stayed in China.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Yesterday, Canadian Maggie Mac Neil won the women's Olympic 100-meter butterfly final, finishing ahead of China's Zhang Yufei by just five hundredths of a second. The swimmer and University of Michigan student, who is near-sighted and doesn't use goggles or contact lenses in the pool, didn't even realize she had arrived first until she narrowed her eyes as she looked at the time on the scoreboard: 55.59 seconds, a gold medal and a new national record.

One of the many Olympic victories these days, but one that hides a special story. Mac Neil was born in Jiujiang, China. Abandoned by her biological parents in February 2000, she was adopted a year later by a Canadian couple from London (Ontario) together with her little sister.

So Maggie is not only a world-class swimmer, she's also one of the many girls whose lives have been scarred by China's one-child policy, in effect from 1980 to 2015.

Families' preference for sons, especially in rural areas, has forced many women to forcibly abort or abandon their female children in the hope that some institution would take care of them.

On Chinese microblogging site Weibo, some users commented on the girl's story: " “Imagine had she not been brought up from the orphanage, or had she not been deserted by her biological parents, what would she be now?” wrote one comment on the country’s microblogging site Weibo. “The adoption changed her life orbit completely as she was given such quality care and training.” “She might have dropped out of school to support a younger brother had she stayed in China,” wrote another.

Since China launched its international adoption program in 1991, some 110,000 children have been adopted, most of them in the United States. According to the U.S. State Department, of the 82,456 Chinese children adopted from China between 1999 and 2020, 82 percent were girls.

 "How many girls failed to realize their potential because of a preference for a male?" another Weibo account wondered. "How many female talents have we missed out on?"

The one-child policy was cancelled in 2015, when Chinese President Xi Jinping allowed families to have up to two children, later becoming three in 2021. A measure that experts say will not soon solve the gender imbalance created over the past 30 years.

Weibo users insisted that Maggie's being Chinese by birth should not glorify China, which arrived at the silver by a twist of fate: "She enjoys Canadian citizenship, and all the credit should go to those who raised and trained her well in Canada."

“I feel ashamed to see media mention that MacNeil was born in China,” one user said, “What is more worthy of being mentioned may be that we gave her up 20 years ago.”

For her part, MacNeil is very clear about how she identifies herself. “I was born in China and I was adopted when I was really young, and that’s as far as my Chinese heritage goes,” she said in the post-race press conference. “I’m Canadian and I’ve always been Canadian, so that’s just a very small part of my journey to where I am today. It’s kind of irrelevant when it comes to swimming.”