Anna Mae He Is Not Coming Home

For the full story on Anna Mae He affair, see Wikipedia.  The following concerns some recent developments that pertain to journalistic practice.

(WRMC)  Anna Mae He: Coming Home?  By Brooke Sanders.  July 31, 2008.

Plans are being made to bring Anna Mae He back to America.  The news comes from Anna Mae's biological father, Jack He, who says life in China is not what he thought it would be.

Anna Mae, at the center of an international custody battle for years between her biological parents and her Mid-South foster parents, Jerry and Louise Baker, moved to China earlier this year.

Jack He can easily sum up how his family is adjusting to life in China.

"It's a big mistake for me to return to China with my kids," he said by telephone in a recent interview.

It was a suprising admission given that, just months ago, we saw Anna laughing and apparently happy in her new homeland.

"She does not easily show her emotions on the surface," Jack He said. "She does not cry or have tears."

In fact, He said, there is real pain behind Anna's smiles.

"Every day I can tell she does not feel comfortable in this kind of environment," He said. "It's not only strange to her, but it is scary to her."

Scary, for a number of reasons.  Anna doesn't speak the language in an overcrowded city, where she and her brother and sister attend an overcrowded school.  With 60 or more children in her class, it's a far cry from her small classroom at St. Agnes Academy in Memphis.

"My children do not receive sufficient attention from the teachers, so I am very concerned that they can't catch up with the students academically," He said.

And, Anna isn't making many friends.

"She is not interested in interacting with others," He said. "She keeps thinking about Memphis."
Anna is not alone. Her brother and sister want to come back to Memphis as well.

"My children are U. S. citizens," He said. "They were born and raised in the United States."

So, although Jack He has two teaching jobs in China, he wants to bring his family back to Memphis.  He can't do that until he gets help with immigration laws, and an American company to sponsor his family's return.

He hopes someone in Memphis will help.

"It means everything to me to return to the United States with my children," He said. "It means everything."

Until then, Jack He said, his family is doing the best it can to stay happy.

(yWeekend)  American media distorts report about "Anna Mae He returning home."  By Zheng Yanling.  September 4, 2008.

"I don't want to go back to America. "  More than six months ago, the 43-year-old Chinese male He Shaoqiang took his family of five to leave Memphis in the American south to return to China.  On September 1, he made this statement in a firm manner to the yWeekend reporter.

Over the past seven years, He Shaoqiang had been engaged in a fight with the white American couple the Bakers over the custody of his 9-year-old daughter He Mei.  He is the father in the sensationalistic "Anna Mae He" case in America (known as the He Mei case in China).  When He Mei was less than an year old, He Shaoqiang and his wfie had to place He Mei under the care of the Bakers.  Afterwards, the Bakers refused to let He Mei return to her family.  Finally, He Shaoqiang went through the legal process to get his daughter back.  But recently, the American media are saying that He Shaoqiang who had to move back to China due to visa problems is sorry that they ever went back.  But he told the yWeekend reporter that the American media took his comments out of context, and even subjected it to editing.  He is going though this American legal process to demand the television station issue an apology.

Over the past couple of days, an Internet post titled <He Shaoqiang is sorry, he wants to return to America> has been popular at many renowned mainland Chinese and overseas Internet forums.  The post said that there was a report at Memphis television station WMC-TV by reporter Brooke Sanders titled "Anna Mae He: Coming Home?"  In the report, He Shaoqiang told the reporter that "It's a big mistake for me to return to China with my kids."  He is presently thinking about bringing his family back to Memphis in the United States.  ""It means everything to me to return to the United States with my children."  These posts included the video clip of the television interview which has He Shaoqiang's voice.

Immediately, netizens made fun of the former image of He Shaoqiang as the "anti-America warrior" because he has just given China a huge slap in the face.  Why does He Shaoqiang who spent seven years in a foreign country to get his daughter back want to return there after six months in China?  Is he really sorry?  If he is sorry, then what is the meaning of the "Anna Mae He case" so named by the Tennessee court?  On August 31, the yWeekend reporter interviewed He Shaoqiang, who is presently living in the city of Changsa.

This was the first case that used the name of a Chinese person.  The law to protect the rights of the natural and foster parents was first passed in Tennessee state and is ready to be signed at the US Congress.

The "Anna Mae He case" originated as a legal case over family custody.  The case involved the Chinese student He Shaoqiang and his wife, the American white couple the Bakers and the daughter He Mei that He Shaoqiang left in the care of the Bakers.  In the end, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decisions of two lower courts and returned 8-year-old He Mei into the hands of her natural parents.  In the previous two court decisions, He Shaoqiang and his wife were stripped off all parental rights: the right to visit, the right to supervise and the right as parents.  This case was deemed to be one of the top ten international affairs of the year 2007.


yWeekend: I went on the Internet to watch video in which the American television station interviewed you.  I heard what you said.  Are you really sorry about taking He Mei and your family back to China?
He Shaoqiang: I must state that at the time, I uttered a total of ten to twenty sentences.  They followed each other in a flow.  But what was broadcast was taken 'out of context.'  They excerpted whatever they needed from what my statements.

yWeekend: Didn't you use English to say one word at a time: "It's a big mistake for me to return to China with my kids"?
He Shaoqiang: On July 23, the American reporter called me up to ask how the children were doing after coming back to China.  I told here that before returning to China, we were very happy.  Between July 2007 and the time we returned to China, He Mei had been home for six months.  She got along very well with the family members.  We felt that we were ready and so we came home.
Based upon the situation of the children, it seems that He Mei is not doing as well as her younger siblings.  She is attending an ordinary school with sixty children per class.  This is not as good as the small classes in Memphis.  She does not know how to how speak Chinese and she can only comprehend half of what she hears.  So it was hard for her to communicate with her schoolmates and teachers.
But the reporter kept pushing: "If you look at this from the viewpoint of the child, was it right or wrong?"  I said that from that viewpoint, it was a mistake to take her back to China so hastily.  But I also told her that as a father, I will definitely do everything to make sure that she adapts to her school and life in China.  At the time, I answered their question from two perspectives.  I did not imagine that she would only use one of them.

yWeekend: Then you went on to say: "It means everything to me to return to the United States with my children"?
He Shaoqiang: Not only did they took just one side of the story, but they excerpted my response.  When I said that "it was a big mistake," I was not referring to the return of He Mei to China.  I was talking about letting He Mei attend the international school in Chongqing.  It was unfair to her younger siblings who have not begun to go to school.  The phrase was also not connected to "returning with the children to America."  They edited two completely unrelated phrases and put them one after another!
I spoke about "returning to America" only because the reporter kept asking me what I would do if the children are completely unable to adapt in China.  I said that it means everything to me that the children can adapt to China.  If the children cannot adapt here, I would take the opportunity if it exists to take the family to live in America.  This is my everything.  My everything is about my children.
I made three points.  In the end, everything that parents do is to make sure the children can grow up healthily.  If they can travel between the two countries, it would be good for them.  I don't want any restrictions.
When I undertook this interview, I was open and sincere.  I spoke whatever came to my mind.  But in the end, they aired whatever they felt like and they took what I said out of context.  They tarnished me.

yWeekend: When WMC-TV reported on your case previously, did they also take things out of context?
He Shaoqiang: When I was still living in America, they were interested mostly in the custody case over He Mei.  I should say that it was a lot better than this time.  They made objective presentations of both sides.  Therefore, I was not psychologically prepared this time.
After this affair, I remembered that when they came to China to follow up this February, they were starting to show their selective standards.  But I was not attentive at the time.

yWeekend: How did that show up?
He Shaoqiang: They followed us around to film.  They saw that I was working as a teacher at the university; that we had better housing than in America; the three children were all attending school.  Everything was in order.  The children were happy.  We had laughter.  But I observed that their reporter avoided those scenes and looked quite disappointed.  When he got back, he did not report on those aspects.  I asked him why, and he said that there was no news value.
This time, I finally realized that they were waiting to watch us put on a show for them.  They wanted us to report that the children (especially He Mei) are in serious trouble in China.  Then they can air their pre-conceived report that America is wonderful and America is paradise.

yWeekend: You won your court case and you have been back in China several months already.  Is it meaningful for them to reach such a conclusion?
He Shaoqiang: I have lived in the United States for more than a decade.  The Americans are actually megalomaniacs.  In their eyes, America is the best in the world.  Everything that America does is right.  Anything that differs from what America thinks is wrong.  Foreigners (especially those from the Third World) bring their children to come to America.  Nobody ever takes their children from America to elsewhere.  That rarely happens.  That Cuban child Elian was brought by his mother to America, and it took a very long time before his family took him back to Cuba.  This was a big affair in America.  The Americans cannot believe that little Elian would want to return to poor Cuba.
It is the same thing with our family.  The Americans are psychologically unbalanced.  The local judges in Memphis reached the conclusion along with the foster parents of He Mei that China was much worse than America in terms of education, healthcare, hygiene and so on.  That is supposed to be bad for young children.
They think that they are considering the interests of the child.  Actually, these interests are based upon their own standards.  They set up these standards, and therefore they want to come and watch the show.

yWeekend: These is no denying that America is better in terms of health care, hygiene and education.  That has to be better for the children.  It should not be a huge issue for the media to suppose that you would run into all sorts of inconveniences when you come back?
He Shaoqiang: At present, America has many fine points.  But the fact is that I don't feel a lot of regrets.  Personally, I can do what I love to do here.  I can be proud to be a good citizen.  I am very happy.
On this point alone, there is no way that America can compare.  In the American south such as Tennessee, racism is a very serious problem.  This was the headquarters for the Klu Klux Klan.  It is two different worlds in terms of material life, spiritual life and personal career.  The WMC-TV reporter heard what I told her personally and she saw how we are living.

yWeekend: Didn't she interview only by telephone? How could she see it?
He Shaoqiang: She told me that before she called me, they had watched the special documentary about our family on CBS.  That documentary was divided into two 30-minute episodes.  This documentary was filmed by a CBS reporter who came to China in May specifically for this.  It reported objectively about the school lives of the children, my job in China and the situation of our entire family.  The Memphis TV reporter could not believe how happy and well-adjusted we were.  That was why they called me up for an interview.  Actually, I did not tell him anything different from what I told the CBS reporter.  It was almost identical, because they came around the same time one after the other.  I was basically feeling the same way.  But the final outputs could not be more different.  I spoke for ten to twenty minutes, and WMC-TV showed less than 5 minutes.  I have to say that they intentionally distorted what I said.  They could not get a good show and they deliberately made things up.
Personally speaking, I don't want to go back to America.  In the beginning, we were the ones who offered to return to China.

yWeekend: Many people think that you voluntarily left America in order not to get a bad record with the Immigration and Naturalization Services, so that you can return some day?
He Shaoqiang: Even if they let us stay, we would leave.  At the time, certain important American legislators said that they can find a way for us to say in America.  But we don't want to do that.  No media asked me about that, so this was never reported.
It is not wrong to say that I don't want to have a bad record.  If I should ever go back, I would do so openly.  My three children are American citizens.  As their guardian, I should have the right to travel to America without restrictions.  I told the TV reporter that, but they choose to omit it.

yWeekend: You say that they are looking for a good show.  But given that you maintain a hotline contact with the Bakers, isn't it reasonable for people that you want to get on good terms with them in order to return to America?
He Shaoqiang: I have recently invited the Bakers to come to see the Beijing Olympics as our guest.  I even recommended that they come here to teach English in Chinese schools and stay for a few months.  This would allow them to understand China.  I speak to them once or twice each month via overseas telephone calls.
We maintain this relationship with the Bakers not just after we returned to China.  We did so while we were in America.  We are different from the Bakers.  After He Mei returned to live my our family, we permitted the Bakers to come every week to visit He Mei.  When He Mei had her ninth birthday before she returned to China, we invited the Bakers to attend the birthday party.
We did so purely in consideration of the maturation process of He Mei.  I do not want the seed of hatred between the two families to grow inside her heart.  I want her to see that the two families are amicable with each other.  I do this not necessarily because I want to be friends with the Bakers.  I am considering the angle of the child.  I don't want any hatred between us.  After all, they had brought up He Mei for so many years.

yWeekend: Do you feel that the Bakers really love He Mei?  In order to gain custody of He Mei, they sold their mansion and fought you for seven years?
He Shaoqiang: I feel that they subjectively love He Mei.  They tried everything they could to provide her with good food, good clothes and good education.  Subjectively speaking, they were willing.  But in terms of actual effect, it may not have been good.
He Mei once told someone that she is Mexican.  That is because the Bakers told her that her parents were illegal aliens who crossed over from the Mexican border and who have disappeared since.
Last July, USA TODAY went to interview the Baker family.  He Mei was sitting on the lap of Mrs. Baker.  The Bakers said, "He Mei was abandoned by her natural parents.  We saved this abandoned child or else she would be sent back to the horrible place known as China.  Even the USA TODAY reporter thought that this assertion was going too far.  This reporter felt that he had to ask me what I thought about what the Bakers said.  I said that the child was only six or seven years old at the time, and she is bound to ask where her parents are.  But they told her that her parents are bad people who abandoned her.  This is a serious blow to the child.  I feel that this type of education is wrong.  But many American media will tolerate this kind of mistake.
The so-called mansion of the Bakers was purchased through a 30-year mortgage loan which they had not repaid in full yet.  At the time, they hired a top local lawyer who charged very high fees (more than two hundred dollars per hour).  At the time, they did not have the money and they were forced to sell the house.
Very people are aware of a certain circumstance.  When the lawsuit first began, neither party could predict whether the lawsuit would go on for one year or seven years.  They could not predict whether this lawsuit would cost them two or three thousand dollars as opposed to one million dollars.  Seven years ago, they thought that this lawsuit would last only several months and cost several thousand dollars because we could not afford lawyers' fees.

yWeekend: Ultimately, they persisted and this shows that they were really nice to He Mei?
He Shaoqiang: Don't you feel that the logic is reversed here?  I am perplexed that the media usually look at it this way.  Just because they spent one million dollars and seven years of time, this proves that they love He Mei?!  Actually, they had no idea that they were going to get into this deeper and deeper.  In the first year or two, they were on a roll and they kept winning.  They thought that the lawsuit would be over very soon.  Just because the persisted, they are said to have a lot of love?  Does this mean that we didn't love enough?

(Mediaverse®)  On Anna Mae He (The Staunch Denial).  Richard Thompson.  September 6, 2008.

Great question. In any event, that probably won't help Jack make his case to the Chinese media since Sanders stands by her story. Her response:

Thanks so much for contacting me. Just let me start by saying that as a journalist for over 16 years I make it my job to painfully fair and objective. This is a story that has torn at my heart as I have watched four adults fight to love one child. So I have always taken great steps to fair to all involved.

Let me make it clear, I did not take Jack He's comments out of context. He contacted me because he desperately wanted to get a job in America so his children could return. We talked and emailed for several weeks before he agreed to talk with me about this sensitive issue. He was afraid of the repercussion that he is now receiving. He finally agreed to talk with me if I focused on Anna and how she is unhappy with school and life in ChangSha. Which I believe I did.

As for the video of a happy family, we aired that story in February and showed the He family happily adjusting to their new life in China. The video and comments about happiness not being shown or news worthy must have came from another journalist from another station. We have no such video and I have never made such comments.

Since our most recent story, Anna Mae Coming Home, Mr. He has contacted me several times requesting help to return to the US, even asking me to get the show "Friends" on dvd so that he may use it as a tool to teach English. Mr. He has never indicated to me that I misrepresented him in any way.

The bottom line, I stand by my story and its accuracy.

End of story? Of course, not. I mean, he had to know that interviews spread rapidly on the Internet, right?

(WREC)  Jack He Abandons Family.  October 8, 2008.

He's wife Casey says she hasn't seen or heard from her husband in over three months. Wednesday, October 8, 2008 After fighting to regain custody of his daughter for almost 7 years, Jack He has left Anna Mae and his family. The biological father of Anna Mae has been missing for the past three months. After Jack and Casey He got their daughter back they moved to China. Now, Casey says Jack left in July after the two argued.. She said he quit his teaching job and left home. Casey He, whose family in China is apparently financially secure, said Jack wanted money from her family.Offering to give her the three children for one hundred thousand dollars . Casey who lives near her family, said she and the children are happy. All three children are in private schools, where English and Chinese are spoken. She says she has no idea where Jack is living and has no way to contact him.

(Associated Press)  Child in US custody fight adjusts to new country.  By Anita Chang. 

Nine-year-old Anna He stands quietly amid the chaos in her boarding school dorm on a Sunday night, a frenzy of little girls chattering in Chinese as they change the linens on rows of wooden beds.

Anna is an outsider here. Her parents are Chinese, but she cannot talk to her schoolmates because she grew up in America.

This small girl with watchful dark eyes was at the center of one of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times, a high-profile seven-year dispute marked by racial and cultural undercurrents. On one side were the Bakers, a white family in suburban Memphis, Tenn. On the other were the Hes (pronounced HUHS), immigrants scraping by with low-paying jobs before they returned to China.

The legal fight is finally over. And a new story has started for Anna.

Last year the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered her returned to the Chinese couple, and the family moved to China in February. Since then, Anna has lived in two cities and attended three schools. After her parents' marriage fell apart, she was sent to boarding school this fall and goes home on weekends.

"I really don't like living at school," Anna murmurs in English, buttoning and unbuttoning her sweater absently as the other girls flutter bed sheets in the air.


Anna was born on Jan. 28, 1999, a few weeks after her father was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student at the University of Memphis. Shaoqiang He lost his scholarship and graduate student stipend, although he was ultimately found not guilty.

With very little income and no health insurance, the Hes asked an adoption agency to find a foster family until they got back on their feet. Anna went to live with Jerry and Louise Baker when she was less than a month old.

In June that year, the Hes signed court papers that transferred custody of Anna to the Bakers so she could get health insurance. The Bakers eventually sought to adopt Anna, saying the Hes had abandoned her.

Anna's parents wanted her back, and the case wound through four different courts. One judge suggested the couple only wanted to keep Anna to avoid getting deported, calling Anna's natural father deceitful and the actions of her mother "calculating, almost theatrical." For five years, the courts did not allow the Hes to see Anna.

The Bakers in turn questioned the quality of life for little girls in China, where families have a traditional preference for boys.

By the time Anna returned to her Chinese parents last year, she was no longer a baby but an 8-year-old American girl. She was unable to speak or understand Chinese, and American classmates told her the country would be "weird."

Anna's parents, also known by their American first names Casey and Jack, fell out just five months after returning to their native country. Her mother, Qin Luo, took the kids from the city of Changsha, where He had found work, to her hometown of Chongqing in southwestern China.

The mother and children X Anna, 8-year-old Andy and 6-year-old Avita X now live in a simple two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of town.


On a recent Friday night, Anna and Avita huddle in one room, dressed in matching Hello Kitty tops and whispering to each other in English on a bed strewn with a Chinese checkers board, marbles and miniature plastic figurines.

Here at home, everybody talks to Anna in English. Her brother and sister are perfectly fluent in English and Chinese. Everyone calls her "Anna," instead of her Chinese name "He Sijia."

After nine months in China, Anna still does not speak much Chinese, a notoriously difficult language to learn. She says she can understand some things "if it's really easy."

"At class, I never understand," she says, with her childish manner of speaking, pronouncing 'R's as 'W's. And Anna is reticent about communicating with other kids in Chinese because, "Well, they never understand me."

Anna didn't tell her classmates about Halloween "because I don't know how to say Halloween in Chinese." Nor could she alert her teacher when she spotted "a big black bug" in the vegetables at lunch one day.

Anna is short for her age, but has a round tummy that she and her mother attribute to her "meat-atarian" diet. Like many other 9-year-olds, she has front teeth too big for her face.

At first Anna says she is "scared" to answer questions about herself, but soon she's eager to talk.

"Well, I liked America. I liked to be at school, I liked math and science," she says. "I have, like, a lot of friends and I get to be with everyone that can speak English."

And what are three things she likes about China?

"Well, let me think ... well, I have made a friend but now she is gone. Her name was Sarah. That's one thing. I'm trying to think of a second thing. Second thing I like about China ... is ... well, I don't really know. I don't know ... There's so many cars and a lot of people smoke. I really hate that."

Anna should be in fourth grade but was placed a grade lower because of her language difficulties. She says school in China is "five times harder" than in the U.S. She has a backpack filled with papers from her American school, most marked in green ink with a perfect score.

"At school, on my report card, I always had A's, never one B," she says. "In China I maybe got too many B's and C's."

Anna hates ballet, and her favorite class is piano.

"I like music ... it takes the troubles out of my mind."

Do you have a lot of troubles?


Like what?

"Well, I don't like school," she replies.

What do you wish could happen to make it better?

"I wish everyone would speak English," she says, laughing.

When asked about the Bakers, Anna pulls away. She rolls onto her back. She covers her face with her hands. She says she has forgotten what it was like when she moved from one family to the other, and whether she was happy or sad.

"I don't even know," she says.

At dinner in a Chinese restaurant near their home that Friday night, Avita snatches two duck drumsticks while Andy hacks at a crunchy potato dish. Anna closes her eyes and puts her hands together.

"Her teacher asked me, what is she doing? I had to tell her, she's praying," Luo recalls with a laugh.


Anna says she does not miss her father, whom she has not seen since July.

"No one knows where he is. One time, this one day, maybe nighttime, he was just gone and we never seen him again. And he took away his computer," she explains.

He, who teaches at a tutoring center in Changsha, says that he left the family's apartment after a fight with his wife and that she took the children away.

Luo has accused her husband of infidelity, hitting her and neglecting the children. He denies the accusations.

He has filed for divorce and said in court documents he wants custody of all three children.

"It's not my intention to really divorce her," says He, who calls himself a "family-oriented man." "It was to intimidate her to not move away from home with the kids without my knowledge ... I'm still hoping that she will come back to me."

Luo sent all three kids to boarding school after her brother convinced her it would be too hard to handle them, the daily commute, the schoolwork and the household duties all by herself. She visits them at least three times a week.

"It was a hard decision," she says. "Thinking about it, I would get so upset and cry."

Like many mothers in China, Luo fills her children's time at home with lessons: piano on Friday evenings, Chinese tutoring on Saturday mornings, art on Sunday afternoons. There is no television in the apartment; instead, Luo bought a new upright piano for 15,000 yuan ($2,200).

"I feel that with the kids, I should do everything possible to give them as many education opportunities as I can," she says. "When they grow up they'll be able to get ahead."

Luo, 40, seems stretched a bit thin trying to keep up with the kids. She folds clothes laid out to dry on a space heater while trying to cajole them into picking up toys. She follows after the girls with a hairbrush, but they play with stuffed animals as if she's not there.

Luo does not work, although she says she would eventually like a job. She is supported by her brother, a successful businessman. He pays for the children's schooling X 7,000 yuan (about $1,000) a semester a child X and owns their apartment.

The Bakers renewed contact with Anna after her parents separated, and they call every Saturday afternoon. They send care packages filled with Anna's favorite things: stuffed animals, macaroni and cheese, chocolate.

Louise Baker wonders if it's common for young children in China to go to boarding school. In fact, many parents who can afford it send away children as young as 5 or 6 because they think a structured setting is better for education or they are simply too busy with work.

"Things have gotten really good," Baker says in a telephone interview. "At first she was real quiet, standoffish, but now she chitter-chatters a lot."

Baker won't talk about Anna's current situation. All she will say is, they're happy Luo has the children and "grateful" to her for allowing the telephone calls. They are discussing the possibility of a visit.

"We just want her to be happy and to grow up and to continue to love the Lord," Baker says, unable to hold back her tears. "We're just happy she's got the love of two families."


Anna and Avita sleep in adjoining beds on the fourth floor of a large dormitory building, sharing a room and bathroom with about 20 other girls. They are supervised by one teacher.

The children are out of bed at 6:30 a.m., back in by 8:25 p.m. The day starts with a morning run and ends with showers, three girls to a stall to speed things along. They wash their hair once a week, on Thursdays.

"I really hate living at school," Anna says. "The only good thing is going home."

Luo is hoping to get enough money to send the children to an international day school in Chongqing. She expects to receive a large compensation package from the demolition of a house she owns there.

She also thinks about moving back to the U.S., although she knows it would be hard to find a good job with her limited English.

"They were born there, they're used to the lifestyle there. There's not so much pressure on them at school," she says.

On the coffee table at home is a small purple notebook pasted with messages on colorful paper from Anna's former classmates. Anna reaches for it.

"Some of them are in cursive," she points out, reading aloud. "Dear Anna, I hope you have an awesome birthday and a great time in China. I'll miss you." "Dear Anna, have a very happy birthday, I hope all your wishes come true."

After looking at more than a dozen notes, Anna turns to a blank page.

"No more," she says, matter-of-factly. "No more."

Anna He, third left, plays a board game with her family, her mother Luo Qin, left, her brother Andy He, right, and her sister Avita He at their home in Chongqing, China, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008. This small girl with watchful dark eyes was at the center of one of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times, a high-profile seven-year dispute marked by racial and cultural undercurrents. On one side were the Baker's, a white, churchgoing family living in suburban Memphis, Tenn. On the other were the He's, immigrants scraping by with low-paying jobs before they returned to China. (AP Photo/ Elizabeth Dalziel)

Nine-year-old Anna He stands sits amid the chaos in her boarding school dorm on a Sunday night, a frenzy of little girls chattering in Chinese as they change the linens on rows of small wooden beds. Chongqing, China, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008. Anna is an outsider here. Her parents are Chinese, but she cannot talk to her peers because she was raised in the United States by an American family. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Anna He, left, and Avita play in a room in Chongqing, China, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. Anna was at the center of one of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times, a high-profile seven-year dispute marked by racial and cultural undercurrents. On one side were the Baker's, a white, churchgoing family living in suburban Memphis, Tenn. On the other were the He's, immigrants scraping by with low-paying jobs before they returned to China. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Anna He plays with her sister Avita, not in picture, in Chongqing, China, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. Here at home, the children speak English. Her brother and sister are perfectly fluent in English and Chinese, and her mother Qin Luo talks to Anna in English. Everyone calls her "Anna," instead of her Chinese name "He Sijia." After nine months in China, Anna still does not speak much Chinese. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Pictures show Anna He, right, in a picture on her own, and Anna He, right, along with her brother Andy He, center, and her sister Avita He, left, at her home in Chongqing, China, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. This small girl with watchful dark eyes was at the center of one of the longest custody battles in the U.S. in recent times, a high-profile seven-year dispute marked by racial and cultural undercurrents. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

At dinner in a Chinese restaurant near their home Anna He closes her eyes and puts her hands together in Chongqing, China, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. Louise Baker, Anna's former adoptive parent, won't talk about Anna's current situation. All she will say is, "We just want her to be happy and to grow up and to continue to love the Lord," Baker says, unable to hold back her tears. "We're just happy she's got love of two families." (AP Photo/ Elizabeth Dalziel)

Anna He, right, and Avita, left, huddle in one room, dressed in matching Hello Kitty tops and whispering to each other in English on a bed strewn with a Chinese checkers board, marbles and miniature plastic figurines in Chongqing, China, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008. Here at home, the children speak English. Her brother and sister are perfectly fluent in English and Chinese, and Luo talks to Anna in English. Everyone calls her "Anna," instead of her Chinese name "He Sijia." After nine months in China, Anna still does not speak much Chinese. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)

(Memphis Commercial Appeal)  Inside the Newsroom: Courts can be blind to child's life.  By Chris Peck.  November 30, 2008.

The news from China that little Anna Mae He is now living in poverty, struggling with her studies at a Chinese boarding school and isolated from her absent father, offers Memphis a chance to reflect on this city's oft-cited mythology that families always know best.

They don't.

Yet the superficial, dewy-eyed hope you hear voiced so often in Memphis is that no matter how ill-prepared mothers and fathers are to care for their children, natural-born parents are the best hope for kids.

What has happened to Anna Mae He offers a stark, high-profile reminder of what can happen when society and the legal system ignore the obvious: Sometimes parents aren't the best hope for children.

For the first eight years of her life, Anna Mae He had a happy, healthy, flourishing life in Memphis with her foster parents. Remember them?

Jerry and Louise Baker took in Anna Mae He when the little girl was but 27 days old.

Her biological parents were broke, unemployed and had acknowledged that they couldn't care for their baby.

The Bakers agreed to raise Anna Mae. They provided a stable home. An economically viable home. A loving home.

The courts, initially, could see clearly what was going on. Anna Mae's parents, Shaoqiang "Jack" He and Qin Luo "Casey" He, didn't have the means to support her. So they lost their parental rights in 2004.

Ah, but that wasn't the happy ending of the story. Not by a long shot.

The Hes, perhaps looking for way to extend their stay in America, decided they wanted Anna Mae back. They argued that family trumps all, and the court and a big slice of Memphis public opinion bought it.

Well-meaning lawyers and influential leaders in Memphis lined up to argue that Jack and Casey He were the rightful and best parents for Anna Mae.

After years of bitter struggle, Anna Mae He's foster parents lost their fight to keep her, thanks to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Sixteen months ago, Anna Mae was taken from the only home she had ever known with the Bakers and reunited with her biological parents. In February, the He family left for China.

And Memphis promptly forgot about Anna Mae. Family reunited happily every after. End of story.

But it wasn't the end.

The Associated Press picked up Anna Mae's life story in China.

The value of the AP's international reporting too often is dismissed as too expensive or not local enough. Not true.

The follow-up on Anna Mae He is a local story for Memphis and an instructive one for those who jumped to the sentimental, popular view that blood ties trump all others.

The AP account in today's Commercial Appeal paints a sad, troubling picture of what has happened to Anna Mae He.

After the courts ruled against the Bakers and Anna Mae was put back into the He family structure, her biological mother and father faced deportation to China. Because her parents didn't have jobs and couldn't get jobs in Memphis, they couldn't stay -- even though Anna Mae was an American citizen.

So they voluntarily left America and returned to China.

There, the He family fell apart.

Anna's biological father and mother have separated.

Jack He stands accused by his wife of being unfaithful, of beating her and neglecting Anna Mae. Similar accusations were raised against Jack He in Memphis. But they were shouted down because family trumps all.

Today, Anna Mae He is living in poverty, estranged from her biological father, behind in school.

Sound familiar?

It's as if Anna Mae has taken a tragic script that is all too familiar here in Memphis, and is now living that life in China.

Memphis knows all about kids who struggle in single-parent households, who don't have dads, and whose lives have been disrupted by the breakdown of a support network.

Except, for Anna, it could have been different.

A powerful, appropriate intervention occurred early in her life.

Two loving, stable adults said they would take Anna Mae in.

And that's what she needed. It's obvious now.

Anna Mae He reminds us of a stark truth.

Ill-prepared parents can damage children. If we truly want to help children, then society has to be prepared to intervene on their behalf and not hold to a sentimental view that fathers and mothers know best.

Memphis and the courts didn't do that for Anna Mae He.

This morning, we are left wondering why.

(Memphis Commercial Appeal)  Former guardians thankful for contact with Anna.  By Cindy Wolff.  November 30, 2008.

Jerry and Louise Baker looked through the pictures that were taken recently in China for a story about Anna He.

Their favorite was one with her hands folded in front of her face in prayer before a meal.

"That makes us happy to see that she still prays," said Jerry.

Since this summer, Anna's mother, Casey He, has agreed to let the Bakers call Anna once a week. The Bakers send care packages with gifts for Anna and her siblings, Andy and Avita. The packages are stuff they miss from America: macaroni and cheese, chocolate, other things.

They call Anna at about 11 p.m. on Fridays, which is about noon Saturday in her part of China. They talk for a penny a minute sometimes until way past midnight.

They talk about school, food, the weather.

It's just good to hear her voice, they said. They want her to know they are still in her life, even if it's just for this little bit.

It's been more than a year since the child they raised from infancy was taken from their home and returned to her natural parents.

The Bakers keep Anna updated about their adult daughters who are both expecting babies in the next few months.

"I'll be Lolly, and he'll be Pop," said Louise, who has babysat children for years in her home and is looking forward to taking care of her grandchildren.

The family hasn't had a lot to look forward to since Anna left last July.

They saw Anna a few times in the nearly seven months Anna lived in Memphis with her natural parents, Jack and Casey He, who were facing deportation if they didn't return to China.

They left in February.

For months the Bakers didn't hear anything. Aimee, who is a year younger than Anna, but her twin in her heart, grieved for her sister as did the Bakers, who were her guardians for more than eight years.

The toll from Anna's departure left the Bakers mentally, physically and financially spent.

Jerry's career in the mortgage banking industry suffered with the overall real estate economy as well.

He sells home-improvement products. Louise took a second job at a grocery store chain.

They repeatedly tried to contact Jack and Casey, whom they later learned had separated. Nothing.

Then a producer for ABC's "20/20," which aired several stories about the case, set it up for Anna to call Louise on her birthday, July 24.

"It was the best birthday gift," said Louise.

Last Saturday, Louise asked Anna if she knew which holiday was coming up. Anna couldn't remember.

"I forgot about Thanksgiving," she told them.

Aimee asked her if she remembered what Saturday is.

"Doughnut day," both girls shouted.

Every Saturday, Jerry took the girls out for doughnuts.

Aimee holds the family's two toy poodles up to the phone so they can hear Anna's voice. Aimee takes care of Anna's lizard.

The Bakers are trying to arrange for Casey and her three children to come for a visit during Chinese New Year, which runs from mid-January to mid-February. They are hoping to raise the nearly $5,000 it will take in airfare alone.

"All three of the kids grew up here and miss being here," said Louise. "Casey wants to bring them for a visit because she knows how much they want to come back."

Aimee said she always tells Anna that she loves her at the end of the weekly conversation.

Anna whispers the same words back to Aimee.

(Memphis Commercial Appeal)  Picture tells Anna He's story.  December 2, 2008.

I hope everyone who thought Anna Mae He's biological parents had the better claim to her saw the photograph on the front page of the Nov. 30 Commercial Appeal ("Anna's journey / Girl who was the subject of a bitter custody battle struggles to adjust to new life in China").

It was her natural father, Jack He (a self-proclaimed "family-oriented man"), who set the wheels in motion that landed Anna in a room she shares with 20 other girls. As the picture so eloquently expresses, she is isolated in that crowded room by her inability to speak Chinese.

Jack He has never appeared to know or care what is best for Anna Mae. Early in the case, a judge called him deceitful; now his own words prove that judge right. Although he filed for divorce from his wife, Casey, he says, "It's not my intention to really divorce her."

Although I do not know the Bakers, I continue to hope and pray that Anna Mae will return to Memphis and to their loving arms.

Suzanne Wexler


Peck's column missed the point

Once again, Chris Peck got it wrong (Nov. 30 "Inside the Newsroom" column, "Courts can be blind to child's life"). Anna Mae He is not living in poverty. As the article on the front page attests, she is living with her mother, sister and brother and attending an expensive boarding school where she will get an excellent education -- much better than the public school education she would have gotten here.

It's a struggle for her only because she wasn't returned to her parents in May 2000 when she was only 1 year old, but she's still young enough to pick up the language easily. If the Bakers had not sought to deprive Anna Mae of her natural family, she would know Chinese and English, as her brother and sister do. Peck makes the comment that Anna is American born, but so are her brother and sister and he doesn't advocate removing them from Casey He's custody.

He misses the whole point. The Bakers should never have put Anna and her family through the custody battle. If Jack He had not been falsely accused in the first place, he wouldn't have lost his job or his daughter. Thank goodness our justice system prevailed.

Jay Hardison


Court lost sight of Anna's needs

As the attorney who represented the Baker family in the Anna Mae He custody case, I have no apologies. And my regrets are well stated by Chris Peck's Nov. 30 column, save only that I know much more about the system and how it malfunctioned than he; therefore, my regrets are deeper and more intense.

What has now come to light is merely the tip of Anna Mae's iceberg of suffering. But she is a strong person who, no doubt with wounds, will come through it all.

As Paul Harvey has so often said, we must wait for the rest of the story. Please join me in never-ending prayer for Anna Mae. It is all about her and neither about me nor anybody else, including the Bakers and the Hes.

I think the question on Peck's mind is poignant. Why was the fact that this was all about Anna Mae so difficult for the Tennessee Supreme Court to see? I'm sorry, but there is no excuse.

Larry E. Parrish


Anna needs an angel

I certainly hope the judges on the Tennessee Supreme Court are proud of themselves for ordering Anna He returned to her birth parents and to a country and culture where she is totally "lost."

This little girl needs someone in her family to step up and do something to get this child back to the United States and to her Memphis family who truly love her and want what is best for her. She is a U.S. citizen!

I hope the Tennessee Supreme Court realizes what a mistake it made last year. This child needs a miracle to occur in her young life, and she needs it right now.

Frances M. Moore


The system ripped He family apart

Your article about Anna Mae He made my blood boil. It is written to appear that Circuit Court Judge Robert "Butch" Childers was right in his original decision to leave Anna with the Baker family, whereas, if the Juvenile Court referee, Claudia Haltom, and the original judge, Chancellor D. J. Alissandratos, had done the right thing, they would have put Anna back with her family.

If this had been done, she would know the Chinese language and not be so handicapped.

It kills me how Childers can say that Casey He was calculating and almost theatrical; she does not understand the English language or American law. He just ripped Anna away from Casey. What would you expect?

Cynthia Chafin


A family is more than biology

How many more stabs can Anna Mae He withstand? Her little heart is so wounded by now that it may not recover. She was torn from a secure and loving home and sent by the Tennessee court system to live in poverty in a culture and with a family and a language she doesn't understand. Birth father Jack He has left the family and birth mother Casey He has placed Anna in a boarding school.

It is painfully obvious that "biology" does not necessarily make parents. Greed and shortsightedness have led Anna Mae to the sorry state she finds herself in today.

The heroes of this sad tale are Anna Mae He and her foster parents, Jerry and Louise Baker. The Bakers are also now broken in every possible way by the cruelty of the system. The only bit of good news is that the family gets to call Anna Mae on the phone once a week.

As an adopted child, I know a little about the importance of feeling safe, secure and loved. One doesn't need to be adopted to have those feelings, but adopted and foster children everywhere are surely hopeful that things will one day turn around for this precious child, Anna Mae He, who never asked for any of these events to happen to her. She deserves the very best in life.

I wish her well and my hope is that Anna Mae and the Bakers can someday be a family again.

Betty Westmoreland



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