MIANYANG, China — The children’s faces stare in somber black-and-white photos from newspapers and scribbled posters at relief camps, seeking their parents. Many will never find them.

As the first estimate of orphans — more than 4,000 — emerged Thursday from last week’s deadly earthquake, thousands of Chinese are rushing to offer their homes.

"My husband and I would really like to adopt an earthquake orphan (0-3 years old)," Wang Liqin wrote on popular website Tianya.com in a forum that was already three pages long.

The high interest is another sign of China’s tremendous post-quake outpouring of sympathy, buoyed by rising prosperity. And it’s a surprising turnabout in a country in which government red tape, poverty and traditional attitudes long combined to discourage adoption.

The new enthusiasm also means that Americans and other foreigners wanting to adopt may not have a chance. Officials estimate that the number of Chinese wanting to adopt the earthquake’s orphans may outnumber the orphans themselves.

"Every day, my ministry receives hundreds of calls," Jiang Li, China’s vice minister of civil affairs, said this week.

At the civil affairs department in Sichuan province, the heart of the disaster area, calls reached 2,000 a day, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

Some Chinese, reached this week by phone, said they want to adopt because they’re unable to have a child of their own. Some see a chance to have a rare second child despite China’s strict one-child policy. And some, like Wang, whose own baby didn’t survive childbirth this year, understand loss and want to help.

"We saw how fragile life can be and have been wanting to adopt a child," Wang, who works in a clothing export business in the southern city of Guangzhou, said by telephone.

Americans also want to adopt earthquake orphans, but "I think the Chinese government will start with domestic adoption first," said Joshua Zhong, co-founder and president of the U.S.-based Chinese Children Adoption International.

SOURCE: DenverPost.com in an AP story