August 14, 2018
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  • Changfu Chang
    Photo Provided
    Changfu Chang
  • Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
    Photo Provided
    Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
  • Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
    Photo Provided
    Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
  • Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
    Photo Provided
    Changfu Chang’s documentary “The Return” highlighted Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents, who abandoned her at a vegetable market in 1995 to escape punishment from the Chinese government.
  • The Broken Bridge in Hangzhou served as the site of Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents.
    Photo Provided
    The Broken Bridge in Hangzhou served as the site of Kati Pohler’s reunion with her birth parents.
  • Independent filmmaker Changfu Chang lives in Severna Park with his wife, Anne Arundel Community College computer science teacher Ruimin Hu, and their daughter, Allison Chang, a sophomore at Severna Park High School.
    Photo Provided
    Independent filmmaker Changfu Chang lives in Severna Park with his wife, Anne Arundel Community College computer science teacher Ruimin Hu, and their daughter, Allison Chang, a sophomore at Severna Park High School.

Severna Park Filmmaker Chronicles Woman’s Return To China

Zach Sparks
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View Bio
January 10, 2018

With BBC Documentary, Changfu Chang Spotlights Social Issues

Twenty years after abandoning their newborn daughter at a vegetable market to ensure that she didn’t become another victim of China’s one-child policy, Xu Lida and Qian Fenxiang stood on the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou awaiting a reunion with their daughter, who was now a 20-year-old living in Michigan. This monumental moment, which would forever alter the lives of two families on opposite sides of the world, would not have been possible without Dr. Changfu Chang, an independent filmmaker who moved to Severna Park from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, last July.

Let’s Meet On The Broken Bridge

With one daughter already, Xu and Qian realized they would not be able to keep their second child in 1995 because of China’s one-child policy, which was adopted in 1979. Violations of the policy resulted in steep fines, loss of property, forced abortion and sterilization.

“I thought even if we couldn’t afford to raise her, we could give her away,” Xu said. “On the morning of the third day after she was born, I prepared her milk. I held her and hugged her for a while. Then I walked to the market.

“She didn’t cry,” he continued. “She was asleep. I kissed her gently. I knew it was the final farewell.” After pausing, he added, “Then I walked away.”

But with their daughter, who they had named Jingzhi, they left a note that ended with a passionate plea. “Let’s meet on the Broken Bridge on the West Lake in Hangzhou on the morning of the Chinese lunar date, July 7, in 10 or 20 years,” it said, referring to a day when loved ones in China meet and reunite.

The parents traversed the bridge for several years, but their hopes were dashed — until they received a message from a TV reporter. The year the girl turned 10, the adoptive parents sent a liaison to the bridge, but she arrived after 4:00pm, just minutes after Xu and Qian had left. The liaison did, however, spot a television crew filming on the bridge. The film crew was able to find footage of Xu hoisting a sign bearing the name “Jingzhi.” The crew later reached out to Xu, encouraging him to appear on television to share his family’s story.

“The Return”

In 2005, Chang’s friends persuaded him to investigate a story that was making nationwide news in China: Xu Lida and Qian Fenxiang’s search for their daughter. Despite the media attention, they made no progress in their search, and the liaison was now unreachable.

Chang met with the biological parents in 2006. Hoping for a breakthrough despite unfavorable odds, he sought to find the adoptive parents, armed only with a letter detailing basic facts: The girl’s American name was Kati, a family from Michigan had adopted Kati from the Suzhou Social Welfare Institute in 1996 and Kati had knee issues as a child. Chang scoured message boards, primarily one for parents of children adopted in Suzhou. He eventually found a post about a girl with knee issues. The author of the post was Ken Pohler.

A Google search of Ken Pohler led to an online photo of an alumni event at Calvin College, a liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The photo contained hundreds of people, but Chang expanded the image and matched Ken Pohler to an image Xu and Qian had provided him. Chang reached out to Ken, emphasizing that his motives were pure.

“He was not very enthusiastic,” Chang said. “He did not want to be disturbed.”

As Ken later explained during an interview, he and his wife, Ruth Pohler, were waiting until Kati pressed them for more details before sharing what they had learned.

“She’s only a 10-year-old girl,” Ken said during filming, remembering his thoughts at the time. “We don’t want someone from China that she doesn’t know contacting her and saying, ‘We are your birth parents.’ We didn’t really think she was ready for that.”

When she was 20, Kati surprisingly contacted Chang and requested to meet her parents. She subsequently traveled to the Broken Bridge, an encounter that became the subject of three 30-minute documentaries directed and produced by Chang. The audio documentary, along with an online documentary called “Meet Me on the Bridge” and a BBC World News documentary titled “The Return,” aired in December 2017. A segment on Chang’s documentary was also featured on “CBS Evening News” on January 1.

Providing A Social Platform

A student of literature and an ardent poetry reader, Chang said he’s always possessed an artistic impulse. A professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, he teaches television production and mass media.

“We deal with social issues and provide a platform for social discourse, giving a voice to people who cannot be heard,” he said of his work with View Higher Films.

Chang has created 12 or 13 documentaries, almost all of them dealing with issues of race, culture and identity. Much of his work has given insight on China’s one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2014, and how many adoptees have never met their biological parents.

From the first wave of transracial adoption during the Korean War to another wave during implementation of China’s one-child policy, many of the children went to loving homes in other countries, yet they never abandoned questions about their identity.

“Traditionally, we talk about assimilation and how America is a melting pot,” Chang said. “We don’t worry about what your background is. You work hard, you have a chance to succeed. However, as many of the adoptees age and go to college, they experience what we call a connective identity crisis.”

Even though she was accepted by her family and peers, Kati also harbored questions about her identity.

“I grew up in a place that was very white, very Caucasian, but for me, my community was so close and so tight,” Kati said during “The Return” documentary. “I saw myself as different, but I was actually really accepted, but then things started to become different when I went outside that community and not everyone knew me and knew my story, and they expected me to act certain ways.”

Chang became intrigued by how he could explore identity and heritage and by how he could use filmmaking to draw parallels to minorities as a broader group. He also aimed to help the general public understand the sensitivity of these needs while urging viewers to become more conscious of their own identities, upbringing and culture.

Balancing Filmmaking With Ethics

Delving into people’s lives has come with challenges.

“It’s almost a catch-22. There’s a dilemma of different hats,” Chang said. “Being a filmmaker … we want to dramatize and tell a story that will pique interest. On the other hand, I’m an educator and a parent. When you dramatize, you have a tendency to objectify and, for [participants], create this otherness. Over the years, I have tried to find a happy marriage between those two.”

Never was that dilemma more apparent than when Chang was filming “Ricki’s Promise,” a documentary in which Ricki Mudd traces her biological family, from her first encounter with her birth parents as a 12-year-old to her sojourn in Quanzhou as an 18-year-old.

Sacrificing his chance to catch a dramatic moment on film, Chang told Ricki that her parents were divorced. They had been lying about their marital status during Skype conversations with Ricki, and their admission, while it would have made good film material for Chang, would also put Ricki in an uncomfortable position.

“As a professor, as an educator, I feel that obligation is greater than that as a storyteller,” Chang said.

Upcoming Projects

Chang is currently working on a documentary that is almost three years into production. “The Chinese American Dilemma” highlights U.S. professionals with Chinese ethnicity who have been unrightfully targeted as spies.

With that project, just like all others he works on, he will strive to include his own mark as a storyteller.

“I don’t want to follow any conventions,” he said. “I want to think of the traditional [methods] and think of a way I can make it better.”

Chang lives in Severna Park with his wife, Anne Arundel Community College computer science teacher Ruimin Hu, and their daughter, Allison Chang, a sophomore at Severna Park High School. They hope to stay in Severna Park for many years.

For more information on “The Return,” go to www.bbc.com or find the “BBC Stories” YouTube channel. To learn more about Chang’s other works, go to www.rickispromise.com.

Chang hopes that his work can make a small impact on the world and get people to empathize with their fellow humans.

“I am so privileged to know these people, to gain their trust, to get to know them emotionally and to use my resources to help connect them or help them deal with some issues,” Chang said. “In today’s climate, that is so important. We’re all human beings. I believe we all have the same emotions. We lose loved ones, we grieve. We want to love and be loved. These are commonalities throughout history.”


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