In 1987, 4 per cent of girls were adopted within China. Why? Unlike infanticide, abandonment rids parents of daughters while preserving the supply of potential brides. In fact, an erstwhile tradition common in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces had parents of sons adopting an infant girl to serve as a future daughter-inlaw and household help. Analysing a nationally representative 1992 survey of children, we found that: (1) girl adoptions were concentrated in the above-mentioned provinces; (2) girls were predominantly adopted by families with sons; (3) adopted girls faced substantial disadvantage as measured by school attendance at ages 8–13. In the 1990s, as the sex ratio at birth climbed, were girls aborted rather than abandoned? Observing that in the 2000 census too many girls appear in families with older sons, we estimated that at least 1/25 girls were abandoned in the 1990s, a proportion that in Fujian and Jiangxi may have peaked at 1/ 10 in 1994.