A Chinese microblog that helps parents find missing children has become a sensation, shining a light on child abductions and the growing power of Twitter-like Internet services in China.
The microblog swept into the national spotlight earlier this week when it was used to help reunite a young father with his six-year-old son, who had been missing for three years after being kidnapped.
The emotional reunion of Peng Gaofeng (彭高峰), 30, with his son Peng Wenle (彭文樂), was captured on video and the footage quickly went viral on the Internet. The boy’s identity was still to be confirmed by DNA tests.
Since then, parents of missing children have seized on the site, which had 164,000 followers as of yesterday. Six more children have been found so far, according to reports.
The microblog was set up late last month on leading portal Sina.com by Yu Jianrong (于建嶸), a professor of rural issues who has gained a reputation for activism on behalf of China’s downtrodden classes.
The blog encourages people to snap pictures of child beggars and orphans, then upload them in the hope that parents may see their missing child and track them down.
Abductions and human trafficking have become serious public concerns after a string of revelations, including a shocking 2007 scandal in which thousands were forced into slave labor in brick yards and mines across the nation.
Mounting outrage spurred a government crackdown, which according to state media resulted in thousands of adult and child victims being rescued.
However, there is a widespread public lack of confidence — often expressed on the Internet — in authorities’ willingness to fully address the problem.
Some parents searching for children have told state media that their attempts had been routinely thwarted by inertia and indifference from officials and police.
Writing on his blog, Yu, an expert with leading government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he launched the campaign after a desperate parent sought his help in finding an abducted child.
Yu was not immediately available for comment yesterday.
China’s government blocked Twitter in 2009 after authorities alleged social-networking services were being used to fan ethnic violence in traditionally Muslim northwestern China. A range of high-profile foreign Internet services and Web sites, including YouTube, Facebook and others, are also blocked.
However, since the bar on Twitter, several Chinese clone sites led by Sina have sprung up, drawing an enthusiastic following from China’s huge population of Web users, the world’s largest at 457 million.