Li Jingzhi has been living a parent’s worst nightmare for more than three decades. Her two-year-old son Mao and his father Mao Zhenjing were walking back to their home after preschool when Mao was snatched by a kidnapper in October 1988.
The father and son paused at the entrance of Jinling Hotel in the city of Xian in the Shaanxi province so Mao could have a drink of water. His dad cooled down hot water and took his eyes off of his son for a split second.
That’s when he was taken.
Absolutely distraught, Li has never once given up on finding her son. In fact, she quit her job so she could dedicate all her time to hunting down Mao and bringing him home.
The family searched all around Xian and distributed more than 100,000 flyers in almost a dozen provinces and municipalities after his disappearance. They plastered posters everywhere.
Li described her son as “very clever, cute and healthy.” She appeared on numerous Chinese television shows, begging for people to contact her if they knew anything or saw someone who resembled her son.
In her quest to bring her baby boy home, she pursued 300 leads. Sadly, none of them panned out.
It was as if Mao disappeared without a trace.
Li threw herself into volunteering with a group called Baby Come Back Home that gathers information about missing children and strives to reunite them with their families. While assisting at the group, she managed to match 29 missing children with their families and facilitated their reunion.
“Because at that time I had been searching for my son for over two decades, I knew how hard it could be. I also wondered if someone could give the same help to my son to find his family.”
But not once did she stumble across information about Mao.
Then in late April, someone tipped off the Xian police that a man in the Sichuan province had bought a child in the late 1980s. Officers took a photo of Mao as a baby and, using facial recognition technology, produced an image of what he would look like as an adult.
Officers tracked down a man in the city of Mianyang that closely resembled the simulated image. He agreed to a DNA test and miraculously, it was Mao!
It took 32 long years of searching and hoping. Thirty-two long years of wondering what he looked like. Was he safe? Was he hungry? Did he have a new family?
Ironically, Li was given the good news on Mother’s Day. She learned that Mao had been sold as Gu Ningning to a childless couple living 620 miles from his home for 6,000 yuan (U.S. $845 in today’s money).
“I would like to thank the tens of thousands of people who helped us. I can’t believe that after helping 29 missing children find their families, I am able to find my own son.”
He had no idea that his adoptive parents weren’t his biological parents.
“This is the best gift I have ever got on Mother’s Day. I don’t want to be separated from him anymore.”
Now a successful businessman with a home decoration business, Mao was eager to meet his birth parents and learn more about his early years spent with them.
Mao’s kidnapping case is considered to be one of the most notorious abduction cases in that country. While China does not keep official national statistics on the number of missing children in the country, Baby Come Back Home has received nearly 51,000 reports since 1978.
It is believed that the actual number of missing children in China, like Mao once was, likely is much higher.
Experts say that the majority of the children who end up missing in China have been kidnapped and sold to childless couples. In 2009, China’s Ministry of Public Security established a DNA database to help fight human trafficking.
Through that database, thousands of missing children have been located. In 2015, it was estimated that 20,000 children are abducted every year in China.
In 2016, the ministry then launched an online tracking system called Reunion that helped find 4,385 of the 4,467 kids reported missing at that time.
Watch their beautiful reunion in the video below and prepare to be stunned at this turn of events after 32 long years.
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