Chinese babies, American wombs
Often it is infertility that sends Chinese couples to U.S. surrogacy agencies. More than 40 million Chinese are now considered infertile, according to the Chinese Population Association. The incidence of infertility has quadrupled in the last two decades to 12.5 percent of people of childbearing age.
Shanghai businessman Tony Jiang and his wife Cherry were among them. They turned twice to domestic surrogates after struggling and failing to conceive on their own. Both attempts were unsuccessful, and left them unimpressed with the impersonal nature of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment in China.
Jiang researched surrogacy in Thailand, India and the Ukraine before settling on the United States, in part because of its superior healthcare system.
In December 2010, he and his wife welcomed a daughter, born in California to an American surrogate he calls "my Amanda". The same surrogate later carried twins for the couple.
Friends began to ask him to help them do the same thing and in 2012, he set up his own agency, DiYi Consulting. He has handled 75 surrogacy cases for Chinese parents so far.
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Agents said that while many of their clients struggle with infertility, a substantial portion already have one child - some in their teens - and are looking to have a second outside China's 1979 family planning policy that restricts couples, in most cases, to one child.
They count among their clients government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises, for whom a second child would be a fireable offence. Members of the Chinese Communist Party would also face disciplinary action if a second child were reported.
Families who violate the one-child policy face the prospect of forced abortions, sterilizations and fines, policies that have been most brutally enforced in poor, rural areas.
Technically, Chinese who deliver their second child overseas still violate family planning policies, but in practice the government has little way to enforce this, says Zhong Tao, a Shanghai-based lawyer who has handled similar cases.
Obtaining a Chinese household registration, which is necessary to enjoy subsidized health care and enrol for lower tuition as a local student in state schools, is more complicated, if not impossible for second children.
For children who are foreign cititzens, parents must apply for visas and residence permits.
Seeking surrogacy overseas is not in itself illegal, and Chinese surrogacy agency websites, often adorned with pictures of chubby infants, highlight the possibility of bespoke babies.
Chinese surrogacy clients typically want to use their own eggs and sperm, which allows them to have a child who is fully biologically theirs, agents said.
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A growing number, though, are open to egg donation. Often Chinese donors will seek ethnically Chinese or Asian egg donors, commonly with Ivy League degrees.
But others want tall, Eurasian children, agents said. "Lots of clients that are Chinese do use tall blond [egg] donors," said Jennifer Garcia, case coordinator at Extraordinary Conceptions, a Carlsbad, California-based agency where 40 percent of clients are Chinese.
Agents said that clients believe these taller, bi-racial children will be smarter and better looking.
Chinese clients also often request boys, a consequence of a cultural preference for boy children. While sex-selective abortion is illegal - though still common - in China, gender selection is technically straightforward through IVF in the United States, where it is used in surrogacy cases.
Genetic screening also allows intended parents to rule out inherited conditions. "You can basically make a designer baby nowadays," said Garcia.