Chinese couple reunited with kidnapped son after 32 years

Mao Yin pictured as a child with his mother Li Jingzhi.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A man who was kidnapped as a child has finally been reunited with his parents after 32 years, bringing to an end one of China’s most notorious abduction cases.

Mao Yin was two when he disappeared in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, in 1988 and was sold to another family who raised him as their own son.

Mao, who was renamed Gu Ningning by his adoptive parents, was reunited with his mother and father – Li Jingzhi and Mao Zhenjing – on Monday at a press conference organised by the police and shown live on the state broadcaster CCTV.

Mao, who now runs a home decoration business, was tracked down in early May by Xian police who used facial recognition technology to analyse old photos of the boy. His identity was later confirmed using DNA testing.

When the police informed Li on Mother’s Day that her son has been found, she wept and said, “This is the best gift I have ever got on Mother’s Day”, according to the CCTV report.

At the press conference, the couple broke down in tears while hugging their son. Holding her son’s hands, Li said: “I don’t want to be separated from him any more”, and the son replied that he would come and live with his biological parents soon.

He disappeared in 1988 near the Jinling Hotel in Xian after his father left him alone for a few minutes when he went to fetch water.

His parents spent the next 32 years looking for him across the country and Li distributed more than 100,000 missing child fliers.

Since 1999, Li has appeared on numerous television shows in China to raise awareness of the thousands of missing children across the country, and said she hoped her own child might watch one of the programmes one day.

In 2007, Li became a volunteer at a major non-governmental platform “Baby Come Home” that tracks down kidnapped children and has helped more than 20 families find their missing children.

“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,” Li told the South China Morning Post in January.

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During her long search, she followed 300 possible leads to see if they were her missing son, but in each case no match was found.

Police said that last month they discovered that her son had been sold to a childless couple for 6,000 yuan (S$1,200 in today’s money).

No further information about his adoptive parents has been released and the abduction is still under investigation.

However, CCTV reported that the child grew up in the neighbouring province of Sichuan and went to university before setting up an interior design business.

In 2009, China’s Ministry of Public Security set up a DNA database to fight human trafficking in China. According to officials, more than 6,300 missing children have been found through the database since then.

Then in 2016, the ministry launched “Reunion”, an online tracking system, and that helped find 4,385 of the 4,467 reported missing children, according to Gong Zhiyong, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.