I was fortunate to be grazed by the burning steel soul of Dawn Gage.  Her demeanor and drive and cutting observations lead me to think of her as on fire, tough as steel and yet still in the furnace process.  She threw herself into challenges as an extension of God’s will.

In 1989 I was assigned to an Australian Government poverty alleviation project in a poor mountainous county 3 hours by road north of Nanning, capital of Guangxi, in south China.  The county was so backward and no one spoke English or understood standard accounting so we engaged the Guangxi Economic Management Cadre College as a subcontractor. Dawn taught English there, she visited our project, and also in Nanning, took me on her Sunday trips to the “Welfare Institute” opposite the local brewery where there were quarters for old people, abandoned babies, and for abandoned children aged 18 months to 15.

The One-Child Policy in 1980s-90s. China’s population was becoming unmanageable, multiplying as the mainly rural demographics wanted more children for farming life. But after 1980 there was better health and life expectancy, and it became logistically impossible to intensifying agriculture more densely than the one mu per person millennia old formula (1 mu =1/15 hectare). A One-Child Policy was increased in stages with increasing severity, culminating with horrifying cases of forced late abortions and other problems as publicized by Stanford Uni doctoral candidate Stephen Mosher after his field research. There was great pressure for the one child to be a boy, especially driven by the mother-in-law, with threats of “don’t make a mistake”, and “don’t break our lineage to the farmland”.  Having a girl and no son would mean the ancestral land would be lost to a husband’s family.  The pressure on pregnant women to have a son was so great that a proportion (maybe 1 in a thousand births of females) resulted in abandonment.

In the city of Nanning, the result at the Welfare Institute was about 3 baby girls a day being delivered.  Found by citizens in the street soon after birth, with the only response being to move them on.  What I saw in this place was room with a few cots and a few babies in each cot.  There were two or three nurses who sat in a staff room and watched black and white TV. They had no resources to feed the 20 to 30 babies there.  A dominant factor in this era was that assignment as a nurse to welfare duties was because of failure in the school system. They hated the stigma and just wanted to hide.  The babies were dying and could not last 3 days with zero sustenance. I never saw one disposed of but the stats must have been 3 die a day. They cried in thirst, and were ignored.

Any normal person seeing and comprehending this scene is moved to tears. I was distraught.  I stood at the main gates with racing thoughts and saw 3 adults bring another bundled baby towards me. I shouted, waving my hands and trying to stop them. They told me, “Hey, this in not ours, we found it in the street. We are just bringing it here”.  On another occasion a taxi driver who picked me to go home told me, “I know what you are thinking. I found a baby girl outside my place and my wife scolded me and said, “you already have a girl – you don’t want another. So I dressed her in some of my daughter’s clothes so she would look pretty and put her back on the street.”

Dawn came to this place every Sunday and I never saw her pay any attention or enter the room of babies. She had closed it out as too hard for her. One reality is that any hint of compassion, buying powdered milk, or somehow getting a baby adopted locally or internationally, would have become a faint justification for a mother to think she could abandon her baby “to be cared for by others”.  I heard Dawn say something like, “forget about the babies”, which shocked me and only later could I realize the agony she would have gone through to reach that point.

The abandoned children.  Sharing the same courtyard as the dying babies were other rooms with children from toddlers (18 months) up to 15 years old.  About 40 kids.  They looked after themselves.  The nurses had nothing to do with them that I could see. About 70% were girls but it was hard to tell because no one taught them to distinguish boy and girl clothings. Most were under puberty and only if they were sitting with no underwear might you be shocked to see by private parts that they were wearing “wrong” clothes.

The amazing point to notice was that these kids cared for each other. No one else did. A clearly mentally retarded boy of 10 spoon feeding a toddler.  A toddler guiding a blind girl round the courtyard.  It must have been a nurse that put all the dirty clothes in a boiler to clean them, but then the kids hung out the washing, put it in a pile when dry, to chose items – any items – when they needed to change.  All done quietly with murmurs of cooperativeness.  Dawn would arrive on Sundays with bags of fruit, and bring quiet words for each individual.  How they loved her.  And she knew each as her own.  Two girls had had their faces scalded and disfigured by boiling water, done in fits of rage by some family adult because they were a girl.  Some kids had lost limbs.  The 15 year old was a lovely girl, totally blind, who somehow had learnt to dress nicely.  Lovely kid. Abandoned either because she was a girl or blind or both.  Dawns favorite (to rely on) was 12 year old boy who had “nothing wrong” and was clearly intent on protecting each member of the group.  He had a big smile and a big heart.  These were Dawn’s life.  It was an era when China pretended it was a social paradise and there was no tolerance of foreign “interference”.  So Dawn had a recognized job 6 days a week and was careful whom she shared her mission with.

Dawn Gage. Dawn had an aura about her that struck me. She was going about God’s business.  She was quietly, steely confident in that assurance.  The Chinese did not know what to make of her.  She had long flowing golden red wavy hair down to half way between her shoulders and waist. There was a large photograph of her posted on a board as part of a high scale city photographic competition. It had the sun backlighting her hair as she rode on a bicycle. Stunning effect.  Men around her made fools of themselves.  She hinted to me some of the idiotic advances she endured.  From my experience I know many Chinese men get wrong ideas from foreign movies.  She was particularly disgusted when seeking out some improvements in conditions for the kids from the silly old bureaucrats who had been so inept in government to have been demoted to welfare issues.

Dawn told me she was going to Beijing for two years of language training so she could come back and fight bureaucracy.  I lost track of her but know that is what she did.  About 10 years later and after years in north China I returned to Nanning on a short consultancy and sitting in the lobby of a five star hotel, saw Dawn come in with several  young foreign couples, obviously on a visit to adopt a baby.  She had eventually worked out a way to at least save some babies.  It was nightmare of official red tape and evil corruption (the evil strategy of charging many thousands of dollars to adopt babies into a loving home for the start of a new life when the status quo was dying when they are 2 days old!).  But Dawn was getting somewhere. And she had founded a real orphanage for her beloved kids. “Living Stones” Orphanage. With foreign funding.

That was not the end of her struggles and there were other undercurrents later on that seemed to leave out Dawn’s amazing achievements.

Through the power of the internet, I found out today of the obituary to Dawn, dying of cancer in US Easter Sunday 2017.  Only the good die young.  Here is one time we can truly say this person left the world a better place.



Other memories

Dawn was a tower of strength to anyone who would tune in. In 1992 in a Nanning hotel I got news one of my best friends, in the army together in officer and pilot training, was killed in a plane crash.  I was meeting Dawn and poured out my sadness. She told me her dad was a test pilot and killed in a crash.  So matter of fact. Her strengths radiate.

I was honored to have one of my sons (14 years old) with me and meet Dawn for a meal and talk.  I felt I could see Dawn’s calmness instilling something special in him.  So proud to have known her.

One time I inquired about her social life and any hint of romance. Seems like some guy had followed her to Nanning but he was not on the same track and had faded into dismissal.  Not sure but seemed inconsequential to her mission.

I took one of my friends, an Australian Embassy official, to see the Welfare Institute and it moved her to go through the process of adopting a baby girl.  I am still in touch with the family and know that it would not have happened without Dawn.

My son went back to his junior high school with stories and photos of the dying babies. He raised A$600 at school which was a good effort.  I sent it over.  He came with me again and found what the Welfare Institute bureaucrats had done: Installed an air conditioner so the room the babies were suffering in and dying within 2-3 days would be  cooler.  Good lesson for my son on charitable intents.


Follow up on One-Child Policy: The brutality of forced late abortions and terror campaigns by officials on women in second pregnancy faded with the advent of scanning to ascertain gender of the fetus.  If there was pressure not to have a girl it did not get born.  The demand was so great that supply became technologically available at 20 yuan for a scan (Though formally deemed illegal but of course widely practiced). The result of the abandonment era followed by the abortion era has left Chinese men of marrying age with a deficit of 20 million potential partners.  Many kinds of social repercussions.  Lately there has been move to allow second child.

Western readers are not well equipped to pass judgement on what they see as social problems in China. The population pressures – the “competition” to put it politely – is hard to imagine. In general Chinese are very loving to kids and to any kids.  The stories and cases of abandonment or anything negative towards children only make the news because of the huge “universe” of events in China, which has 3 times the population of US or EU.    Most bad news stats in China (orphans, domestic violence, murders, etc), if on a pro rata basis, are low compared with world averages.


The three photos at the top are 1) Dawn and her College Dean (on her right) visiting my project (I am wearing a cap) in 1989. 2) My second son in the room with the babies left to die. 3) My eldest son and I with some of Dawn’s dear orphans.  The sweet girl between us was twelve and quite bright but had deformed spine and was malnourished most of her life.


On Youtube there is a 1995 half hour documentary “The Dying Rooms” and at 15 to 19 minutes is the orphanage Dawn attended.  She was not there at that time.


: http://www.coulterexergy.com/archives/1759

2017-12-15 03:05:24

From the same Guangxi college as Dawn my project 1989-93 also had a Chinese guy who became my good friend and still is now. I shared news of Dawns passing and he reflected on what he knew that was news to me. Besides just visiting the orphanage on Sundays she also organized outings which must have been a great treat for the kids, so isolated behind high walls. She took them to the zoo and to parks. What a logistic nightmare, and on a budget from her teaching salary. She engaged students and church folks as helpers, hired a bus, organized wheel chairs and people to push and carry, and off they would set out. What a lift for these deprived kids.