I’ve just received a rather disturbing e-mail from a fellow expat here in China. As I really don’t have any experience, or know anything about the laws or official steps that can be taken, I figured I’d post it on here in hopes that our wonderful readers might have some advice to give.

The e-mail reads:

Hello. I wonder if you could help me. I am an American in China and my Chinese ex-wife and her boyfriend have abducted my five year old daughter. I need some legal help to try to get my daughter back. I’m alone and I don’t know what to do and could sure use some help and support.

Thank you

Jon’s asking, anyone have any ideas what can be done?


  1. Heard a couple of these stories before. Is there an unreported epidemic or is this some kind of scam?

    Do you know Jon?

    If this is true, my heart goes out to him. Totally my worst nightmare here. I’d check in with the US Consulate – especially if his daughter is a US citizen.

  2. If you are a foreigner in China, forget it. You loose every time, and you may have all of your properties confiscated and you thrown out of the country, if you are lucky.

  3. Lesson 1: if you are American and have a child born in China, get that child an American passport ASAP! Then you will have a leg to stand on as this is now the abduction of an American citizen! The State Dept/Embassy can actually do something for an American citizen, rather than having an American claiming to be the father of a Chinese national.

  4. First off, ask yourself this question: if you wife has run off with a boyfriend, how certain are you that the child is yours in the first place? Around the world studies have proven that approximately 30% of all children are raised by “fathers” that are not their own (with the statistics higher than that in some countries). Given the amount of infidelity that occurs in the country (particularly with business professionals) AND the fact that your wife is openly in a relationship with a new man, are you really willing to take the risk of losing your livelihood and your dignity for a child that, honestly, you could make a new one of any time?

    If you are absolutely keen on getting this child back, first try and follow a few basic pointers to make sure the child is yours. Namely:
    1) Does the child look like you?
    2) Does the child speak any other language other than Chinese (if she can even do that…the amount of language proficiency for children is dropping at a staggering rate these days)
    3) How long have you really known this child? If it is for in fact less than the 5 year period and you spend regular long hours away from home, are you sure that this child is yorus?
    4) Were you there when the chold was born, and did you ever have it lose your signt between birthing and the taking of the child home? There’s a high probability that even if the child that was born was yours that there might have been an old switcher-oo in the hospital. After all, the phrase “to get Shanghaied” doesn’t exist for no reason at all.
    5) Go to the nearest pub and ask the most decent looking guy for advice after 3 shots of whisky, 2 black russians, and 3 beers (in that order). That will provide you with the perfect balance of alcohol to blood in your system to put you in the right mind for a change.

    Once you follow these helpful 5 steps dno’t worry, be happy, and do whatever guy in step #5 says.


  5. This really is a Kafka-esque horror story, and I really feel for Jon. The advice of commenter ‘dave’ is the best: if the child has a US passport, then this is an abduction of a US citizen, and you can get immediate advice from your Consulate, followed by serious assistance from the State Dept.

    If the child has no US passport, then the situation is greyer. Perhaps current or previous employers of Jon’s who have some ‘guanxi’ with local police can initiate a search, and track down the families of the ex-wife and her bf, where they would probably be hiding out. Alternatively, email/call the newsdesk of every American newspaper and try to generate publicity, which – if effective – could pressurise authorities here into doing something. Best of luck.

  6. Dave is right – my kid got her passport 6 months after she was born. She is not Chinese citizen even though her mother is and my child was born here. However that being said the Chinese government refuses to recognize these type of passports -If issued from an embassy or whilst the child resides in China.
    Yep – I’ll say that again REFUSED TO RECOGNIZE THE PASSPORT!!!

    It’n not actually valid until after you fill in an advance form to travel out of the country whereby they cancel the Chinese citizenship. They also can deny your trip out of the country for the little one. If your child is born in China then your child is a chinese citizen! No ifs, no buts.
    So word to the wise – if you are holding an American passport (or any passport) for your offspring and they where born here , it is not valid until baby leaves and returns.

  7. Abby, for fun I thought I’d do your quiz.
    Nedzer’s answers…
    1) Does the child look like you? “Like a clone, everyone can’t believe she is half Chinese.”
    2) Does the child speak any other language other than Chinese (if she can even do that…the amount of language proficiency for children is dropping at a staggering rate these days). “She is speaks both.”
    3) How long have you really known this child? If it is for in fact less than the 5 year period and you spend regular long hours away from home, are you sure that this child is yorus? “I was there at the birth (that was a major , major fight) and I have been with her every day of her life and night since she was born except for 5 days(business trip) and 1 night to get her passport. She is five.
    4) Were you there when the child was born, and did you ever have it lose your sight between birthing and the taking of the child home? ” No. my wife was so paronoid that they would switch the baby, from the moment she ws born until we left the hospital the child never left my sight. Except when I took a leak, then Mamma had her. Abby is right it is a common thing in Chinese hospitals to do the switcheroo”

    Back to the topic – it’s really uncommon for a Chinese man to date a woman who has a kid and has been married/divorced/had sex.
    Now multiply that be 10 if the girls husband was a laowai. They consider that damaged goods. My point is this – of the tiny amount of info given it really does sound like it’s not his kid and actually the other guy’s.
    Need more info to help.

  8. I had long ago read, by international law, that your country of birth had specific legal rights, no matter that you now have a foreign passport. These rights include the ability to deny you consular services of the country of your passport, indefinite detainment, etc. In other words, your country of birth have the legal ability to screw you around if you go back and visit them. No matter about your fancy new passport from wherever. Some countries do not allow you to renounce your citizenship because you were born there. Some countries bestow automatic citizenship on wives of citizens. Many people find out about these international laws long after they are neck deep in trouble, which is way too late. I’ve tried to search the internet for citation but could not get a definitive answer.

    I stumbled upon a US Department of State document (U.S. Department of State telegram to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts abroad concerning consular assistance for American nationals abroad, January 1, 2001) document, which documents:

    “10. Arrest in the Country of the Other Nationality:

    Generally speaking, consular notification is not/not required by treaty if the U.S. citizen detainee is also a citizen of the country where the arrest occurred. This is true even if the detainee’s other country of citizenship is a mandatory notification country. It is a generally recognized rule of international law that when a person who is a dual national is residing or traveling in either of the countries of nationality, the person owes paramount allegiance to that country.”

    Because this child was born in China, he is without question Chinese citizen. If there was proof that this child’s father was American, and even if the US granted immediate citizenship to kids born outside the US to American citizens, that would make the child a dual national. Unfortunately China does not acknowledge dual citizenship. It is unclear if China would even allow the child to have US consular contact, and the US Consulate may be powerless to demand China return or even see the child. It is unclear if someone born in China can renounce their Chinese citizenship. Then again in China there is the written law and then there is the law of the street.

    I apologize for the long post, but thought it useful for the father for me to spend the time to help him. I wish the father luck, for he has a difficult road ahead. I am not a lawyer. Go see an international lawyer for legal advice. If you have given birth to a child in China please consider all options.

  9. @Don Tai: Thank you very much for going to so much effort – whether it helps Jon or not, it is a service and a warning to the rest of us.

  10. **confusion**

    Does this mean, that for the rest of the child’s life, even if they received a passport/citizenship from their father’s country, they can be detained here in Ch1na when coming or going?

  11. “Does this mean, that for the rest of the child’s life, even if they received a passport/citizenship from their father’s country, they can be detained here in Ch1na when coming or going?”

    Firstly, the father would have to unequivocally prove he is the father. Then the father would have to apply for a US passport for the daughter. Will the US Consulate approve this? How will you get the child, without the mother’s permission, to the Consulate? Let’s assume this has been done. The child is now a dual citizen, which China does not allow.

    Even if you give up her Chinese citizenship, the US passport will always state the country of birth, which China can use to detain her. If her US passport does not have a country of birth (you can apply to not have this on your passport), some countries may not allow her to enter the country.

    It is unclear whether she would be able to come and go just like a US citizen. Certainly China will always have rights to detain her due to international law. It is this uncertainty that can be worrisome. Even if China had a law they may not uphold it. With China you never know.

  12. I’ve done further research but unfortunately I’ve run out of time. This issue is complex and I do not want anyone to take my writing for the truth. Further research is required. I’ve posted up additional links and cleaned up the information on my blog. It’s more cleaned up as well.

    Here’s some interesting information about US citizens who live with non-citizens who have kids out of wedlock:

    Children born abroad to unmarried American mothers are automatically considered natural-born citizens, as long as the mother has lived in the US for a continuous period of at least one year, anytime prior to the birth. But children born to American fathers unmarried to the children’s non-American mothers are not considered natural-born citizens (or citizens at all) unless the father takes several actions:

    * Provide financial support to the child until he reaches 18,
    * Establish paternity by clear and convincing blood evidence,
    * Acknowledge his paternity formally before the child has reached his 18th birthday
    o This last element can be shown by acknowledging paternity under oath and in writing; having the issue adjudicated by a court; or having the child otherwise “legitimated” by law. USC § 1409(a).

  13. Pingback: Don Tai (Canada) Blog » Blog Archive » Consular Rights in Country of Birth

  14. The legal rules are clear and plain.
    If the child has a foreign passport but has yet to leave China, then China has jurisdiction. Once a baby leaves and returns on a foreign passport they are protected by that passport.

    You are TIED to the method of entry. Enter on a Chinese passport, regardless of other citizenship and you’re on your own. If someone holds a foreign passport and Chinese passport (and some do illegally), they are not protected by their foreign citizenship if they enter on the Chinese. If they enter using their foreign passport they are.

    These are the legal rules which of course doesn’t mean it will be easy. You are always subject to the nationality in which you enter a country.

    In this case, if the child is American and has entered China on an American passport, then the U.S should be able to help.

    If the child has an American passport but has never left China they can be of very limited or no help as China has the power.

    If the child is a Chinese citizen then I’d say good luck cause you’re on your own and screwed. You’ll never beat a Chinese national in court under these circumstances.

    • This is absolutely correct. There is a lot of discussion on our site as well about Dual Citizenship, but if the child has an American Passport and gets an Exit Visa from China, leaves and comes back on an L visa, then he/she is American period and goes through the visa process just like any other foreigner here.

  15. I hope he has his child on a US passport – then he can get assistance from American Citizens Services at the US Consulate. He also needs a lawyer. Not bad idea to put up a website in Chinese to help find his child. As others have noted it greatly improves ones protections if the child has left China and reentered China on a US passport. (note to Chinese Americans – DON’T enter China on a Chinese passport). I’ll pray for your success.

  16. Basically, you have to kidnap the child back. It happened to a British fellow I know a while ago, and there was no solution via the courts.

    Link 1
    Link 2
    Link 3

    The British government was absolutely zero help. It comes down to residence: where does the child reside? If the daughter hasn’t left China and lives there, then she’s certainly Chinese. If she lives in the UK and is merely visiting China, then that’s a different story.

    The really funny thing was, while he was in jail (several times) he had to work on the prison’s assembly line, and they were making Christmas ornaments for Coca-Cola. He got some video on a cell phone (smuggled in a KFC hanbao) and made a scene about it, although I’m sure the company didn’t know its production had been subbed out to prison labor.

    Link 4

  17. Is it just a coincidence that the man in the Sky story cited in the last comment also has the name “Jon”?

    Reading through Jon Sims’ story – I can’t but feel for the guy – could easily happen to any one of us with a Chinese wife and (plans for) kids. Scary.

  18. I too feel for Jon Sims, and he bears a striking similarity to your e-mailer. I don’t think his son has British citizenship until he’s out of China. What can he do?

    The Chinese penal system is radically different from North America. Prisons and prisoners must earn their keep and are not subsidized by the government. The prison makes money or prisoners starve. Many Chinese and North American companies or their contractors use Chinese prison labour. Inmates acquire skills and are not a burden on Chinese society. Note that use prison labour is not illegal under international law, and that companies in both the US and Canada also use prison labour. I’m unsure if they still do but Best Western used to run a call centre from a prison in the US.

    How the partnership began. Influenced by the
    success of Best Western International’s hotel
    reservation center, which operated at the Arizona
    Correctional Facility for Women in Phoenix from
    1981 to 1992, TWA began employing male and female
    youthful offenders in the beginning of 1986. Since
    then, TWA has hired nearly 300 agents at the
    training school, 55 of whom have continued their
    employment at the company’s Los Angeles reservation
    center after their release from prison.

    There is an international labour guideline that states you should refrain from using domestic prison labour to make products for export. In the document there’s something about unfair trade practices. It does not condemn use of prison labour. If you think Chinese migrant workers are cheap, what about jailed Chinese dissidents?

  19. a bit off topic , but also on topic….

    what about children who are born to two foreign passport holders….does the supposed country of birth rule apply here in China. I havent heard of any children being born to two foreigners in China given automatic right of citizenship to be PRC nationals – nor do I ever see this happening in our lifetime….

  20. My son has been abducted to china by my still current wife and her mother. They were to and return by the 19th of nov. i need help what do you do if your child was born in the united states and was abducted while visiting his grandparents by his grandparents.

  21. francisco, are you spaniard? or mexican, south american, usa-citizen?

    direct and hard words to wake u up dude:

    are you kidding here? i cant believe the questions u ask. YOU are his passport. you got my meaning? u have somethign to proove that u r the father right? birth certificate, whatever, there is something and get to ur embassy, interior ministry, police, lawyer whatever. do something or do you want that your son to “enjoys” the “precious” chinese education in china and by his grandparents any longer. poor you. if your son lived with you outside china your ex wife is a criminal kidnapper. do something now, or you wont see ur son anymore.

  22. she is not my ex-wife. she is still my wife. the only person i have ever been happy with.
    we were married then I got laid off things were hard she did not understand why I was sad all the time to her I was giving her mean face her mother came and things happened not bad things but arguing and allot of misunderstanding dcf got involved and they made it worse by telling her she was being a brat this made her feel she has no rights in great usa she told me if I love her to let her go to china with our son on the 19th of oct because I love her and she never lies I said ok they have been there now 5 days they have cut off all communication I am scared if I do something and she is just trying to prove something then I can make it come true if I do nothing and she is planning this then I have lost she and our child was my last chance at happiness if she is away from her mother we can talk but now I don’t know and I am scared the us embassy said they would go to the house if I give them the passport # I never wrote it down you all have to understand I love her I love our son please don’t be so harsh I don’t know what to do I just got a new job and I have spent 2 out of my first 5 days in the hospital I am scared and don’t know what to do they have left one e-mail channel open but I get no response I want to die it is all my fault I should not have flown in and out of Washington to get here I should not have done all I did these things caused me to lose a good job cause I was not at work now I have a good job working for a good company we could have a happy life again you see I trust her but I am losing hope today I tide a rope to a tree on my property I asked my dead mother to give me a sighed I looked up at the sky and a cloud was the shape of a little flying dragon I believe my mother is telling me to trust her and wait until the 19 of nov. but then I find out the closed out my qq account this is a means I can communicate with her so like I said I am very scared so scared

  23. dont talk bullshit! be a man! then just wait..i was in the army (not the american one, but doesnt matter) and we learnt: If there is no strategic military option, it is better to do nothing”. But you have options. So wait, if you prefer to wait, but keep building your action strategy just in case.

    RYAN: Say something here as being the webmaster. This guy seems very desperate. We could need another opinion/view here.

    Francisco: be a man and fight. Life is a fight! You will make it.

  24. It’s a sad fact sometimes that what Mama says daughter usually does, even if she doesn’t like the result. Sorry for your problems Francisco.

  25. don’t talk bullshit wow
    look I lost my son the consulate did shit they told they saw the baby but did not even send me a photo they want me to file formal abduction charges for what that only means she would have to travel then what? I came here for advice what I get is be a man

    well what does that mean go there kill everyone who get in the way then what ?

  26. it is not ment to push you down, it is ment to push you forward and to fight. you sound quite desüerated which is understandable. just wanna inject some agression/action in you, because with nice words you wont solve this problem of yours. your wife is not good person and chinese. good luck dude, you will make it.

  27. I can’t believe how stupid people can be, or actually, I can believe how stupid people can be but can’t really relate to the levels of stupidity observed.
    Before you decide to have children (or decide to screw but not have children or even just go to a bar and have a drink and end up accidentally having kids anyway — shit happens) you should do your research. This includes finding out about such things as what rules apply (from your country’s gov’t, your partner’s country gov’t and possibly the country where the deed takes place, if applicable — refer to the actual government/consulate/law and do not rely on stories/advice on blawgs). In most cases, the rules are quite clear and unpleasant surprises can be avoided. Usually, if you are married, the choice of citizenship is yours — either Chinese (get a Chinese ID) or Foreign (get a Foreign passport) but generally not both. You may indeed need to ‘formalize’ your choice by actually using the passport, but this is offset against not being subject to police razzia and fines for not having registered your kid within 72 hours like in some ‘free’ countries — it is all fairly laid-back in China. There are exceptions, e.g. Maroccans are such for life, without choice. Different rules apply to un-married parents. For example, if a Dutch man impregnates a non-Dutch girl and report this to the Dutch authorities *before* birth, the kid can get a Dutch passport easily, whereas *after* birth it is virtually impossible, with adoption rules becoming in effect (and you have to be holier than the pope to qualify for adoption, even of your ‘own’ kid). In other countries, other rules apply.
    Research also includes finding out if your partner digs you as a person or just your wallet (or your private parts as the case may be). Use your imagination, e.g. stiff her with the bill a few times, or treat him to ugg-boots, tampax and your mother. If her/his behavior changes for the worse, maybe keep looking.
    Having done all your research and taken all the steps, shit happens sometimes, in China just like anyplace else. (Cute) kids may look like cute kids to you, but to some degenerates they look like big, walking “easy money, come and get me” signs. They do so everywhere. In places like Europe the number of degenerates is much higher (both in kids trade and D.I.Y. perverts), but this is compensated by the ‘market’ being much larger too, so the chance that your kid gets snatched is still pretty low. In (some parts of) China, the big walking “easy money” sign is adorned with sirens and flashing lights, alerting the less numerous degenerates to their path to riches. Laowei kids are much more portable and valuable than Santana cars, for example. Not much to do here but be careful.
    In case you do suffer from kidnapping, either from ‘professionals’ or disgruntled family members, step one is go to the authorities (all of them), file reports and so on (but don’t stand there shouting at officials who don’t produce your child instantly, they may not be able to and don’t want to help if you piss them off). Step two is to get on TV and tell your story, bawl if you can, and importantly, offer unspecified large sums of cash for the safe return of your kid. To substantiate the offer of cash, you may need to get a haircut, shave and buy some non-backpacker cloths. Obviously. You can work with the authorities to arrange for the apprehension of kidnappers coming to claim their prize, unless of course they have made a donation to the ‘ball’, in which case you’re screwed. However, in this case we’re talking minute chances.
    Sorry for your loss, and sorry I can’t be of any help (as a father, I do emphatize).
    Mostly, however, prevention is better than any cure and you are responsible for that, i.e. grow a pair. Really…!

    • Nice reply….now go crawl back into your hole like the snake you are. You don’t belong in the human race.

  28. My friend is a US citizen and has lived in China for 11 years, and is separated from his wife. The wife moved, but still lives in China (she is Chinese), and took the daughter away and is refusing him visitation. The wife will not disclose where they are. Probably out of fear that he will take her to the USA, I am sure. The daughter has a US passport. What should he do?

  29. This is the law of China:

    If ONE Chinese parent is a Citizen of China, in China the child is Chinese. China does not have a birth system ( your a Citizen of where your born). So the child’s U.S. passport means nada In China if the mom or Dad is Chinese. They will file for a Chnese citizenship.

    I was married to a Chinese man who took my daughter away from me in China for 9 days as punishment. The U.S. Embassy advised me to get her back and do everything to act normal and a happy family.

    As soon as he left for work one day, we bolted. I had second thoughts on my way out. The U.S. Embassy talked me out of changing my mind by saying next time he does this it will be for good, and there will be nothing we can do to help.

    She’s now healthy and happy here in the USA, 7 yrs old. I wish we could go back because love China, but I’m scared to death.

  30. Hi
    I know its been a LONG time since this thread, but I thought I would try anyway. I am in a polar opposite position: I had my daughter in 2010, she was born in America. I later (when she was 1) went to China and married her father. Less than one year after that, I left for America and filed for divorce here.

    Fast forward to now, he would like her and I to come to China for a visit. Am I in any danger of losing her while there? Again, she was born in America, not China, holds a US passport. The only concern here is 1. We were once married in China, but long after she was born and it didn’t last long and 2. Her father is Chinese.

    Dont want to lose my baby, but want her to know her Chinese family

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