A Chinese man who was stolen from his family as a toddler has been reunited with his parents after 32 years.
Mao Yin (毛寅), then two-and-a-half years old, was snatched in 1988 when he was walking home from nursery with his father. His parents finally embraced him again on Monday in Xian, where he was born.
After Mao vanished, his mother Li Jingzhi (李靜芝) quit her job and launched a decades-long search for her son, that included sending out more than 100,000 flyers and appearing on numerous TV shows.
That long campaign helped 29 other families find their own missing children and made her search one of the most famous in the nation.
“Hope is what motivates me,” Li said in a interview earlier this year.
“I believe that someday I will find my son,” she said.
After more than three decades, a tip-off late last month finally led to that long-awaited reunion.
Police received information about a boy from Xian who had been sold to a family more than 600km away for 6,000 yuan (US$844 at the current exchange rate), state media reported.
Authorities utilized facial recognition technology to help with the search, using photographs of the toddler to create a possible image of the adult Mao and comparing the image to ones in a national database, state TV reported.
A DNA test confirmed Mao’s identity and on May 10, Mother’s Day, police told Li that her son had been found.
“This is the best gift I have ever got on Mother’s Day,” Li was quoted as saying.
Officials arranged the reunion for just a week later, in front of a sizeable crowd and ranks of TV cameras. Mao, who had been waiting in a side room, ran toward his mother when the door was opened.
The family embraced, all weeping, and Mao Yin’s father, Mao Zhenping (毛振平), gently kissed his son’s forehead. He had last seen his son when the toddler asked for water and they stopped at the entrance of a hotel to get some.
“I would like to thank the tens of thousands of people who helped us,” Li told Xinhua news agency. “I can’t believe that after helping 29 missing children find their families, I am able to find my own son.”
Renamed Gu Mouning (顧某寧), Mao had been brought up in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, without any idea that he was the target of a decades-long, high-profile search.
His mother remembered a toddler who was “clever, cute and healthy.”
She had started her search in villages and counties around Xian, and at one point followed a lead to Sichuan, only to find that she was on the trail of a different boy with the same name.
Child kidnapping has been a problem in China for decades.
Some of the minors snatched from their parents have been directly exploited by criminals and coerced into begging, pickpocketing, forced labor or the sex trade. Others have fed a market for adoptees, both among Chinese couples who want to have a son and from orphanages seeking the large donations that foreign adoptive parents are obliged to make.
In the past year alone, Chinese authorities have reunited more than 6,300 snatched children with their families using DNA tests, but that represents just a tiny fraction of missing children.
Mao Yin, who runs an interior design company, plans to spend several days with his parents, before returning home to deal with the implications of having his life turned upside down overnight, Xinhua reported.
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure about the future yet,” he said.
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