Parents Who Never Stopped Searching Reunited with Their Kidnapped Son for 24 Years

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For about 24 years, the father crossed China by motorcycle. He traveled more than 300,000 miles with banners showing pictures of a 2-year-old boy flying behind his bike, all for one purpose: to find his kidnapped son.

This week, Guo Gangtang’s search finally ended. According to China’s public security ministry, he and his wife were reunited with their son, who is now 26, after police matched their DNA.

In a scene captured by Chinese state television, the trio tearfully hugged each other at a press conference Sunday in Mr. Guo’s hometown of Liaocheng in northern Shandong Province.

“Darling, darling, darling,” Mr. Guo’s wife, Zhang Wenge, cried as she hugged the young man. “We found you son, son.”

“He was delivered into your hands, so you must love him well,” said Mr. Guo, trying to comfort him even as his own voice trembled.

The apparent happy ending fascinated China, where Mr. Guo became a kind of folk hero. His cross-country adventure, which he says was thrown from his bike at least once and slept outdoors when he couldn’t afford the hotel, inspired the 2015 movie “Lost and Love” starring famous Hong Kong actor Andy Lau.

After the meeting, Chinese social media was filled with congratulatory messages. Hashtags about the Guo family have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. “Today, ‘Lost and Love’ finally has a really happy ending,” the film’s director, Peng Sanyuan, said in a video on Douyin, a social media app.

Child abduction is a longstanding problem in China. There are no official statistics on the number of children kidnapped each year, but Ministry of Public Security officials said they identified 2,609 missing or abducted this month. kids until this year. Various reports Estimate that the number of children kidnapped each year in China could be as high as 70,000.

Historically, child abduction has been at least partially linked to China’s one-child policy. At the height of policy enforcement in the 1980s and 1990s, some couples resorted to buying young men on the black market to ensure they had a son. Research By scientists at Xiamen University in Fujian Province. Chinese society traditionally preferred boys.

When the central government began facilitating policy implementation in the early 2000s – previously ends in 2015 – reported kidnappings dropped sharply. Zhang Zhiwei, executive director of an anti-trafficking center at China’s University of Political Science and Law, said technological advances such as a nationwide DNA database of missing children, tougher criminal penalties and greater public awareness of child trafficking are also helping to curb the problem. .

Still, the threat of kidnapping continues to put pressure on many Chinese. On Monday, several police departments in the eastern city of Hangzhou published statements He denies viral rumors about kidnapping attempts.

Mr. Guo’s son, who was born Guo Xinzhen, disappeared on September 21, 1997. According to interviews Elder Mr. Guo has given over the years, he was playing at the door of his house while his mother was cooking inside.

Enraged, Mr. Guo and his wife, along with his family, neighbors, and friends, wandered the area in search of the boy. But after a few months the effort waned. That’s when Mr. Guo affixed large banners with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set off to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” on the banners, next to a picture of a boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad wants you to come home.”

Mr. Guo said that over the years, traveling from Hainan in the south to Henan in the north, he had worn out 10 motorcycles, chasing any scraps of information. Once, on a rainy day, a rock slipped from a truck bed in front of him and his motorcycle overturned. He had so many near-miss traffic accidents that he forgot the number. But each time he set off again.

“If I’m at home, the traffickers won’t give it back to me,” he said in an interview with state television in 2015.

In 2012, Mr. Guo founded an organization to help other parents find their missing child, and says he has helped dozens of other families find loved ones, although his own search was unsuccessful. Her story achieved national fame with the 2015 movie. Earlier this year, she started raising anti-trafficking awareness on social media app Douyin, where she gained tens of thousands of followers before her son was found.

The latest development in Mr. Guo’s story also seemed to have come straight out of a screenwriter’s imagination.

In June, law enforcement officers in Shandong received notification that there was a potential match for Mr. Guo’s son in Henan Province, according to the ministry of public security. It was not immediately clear how they had identified him, although authorities said they were using “the latest methods of comparison and search.” Further blood work confirmed that the 26-year-old man, whom some local news reports say works as a teacher, is Mr. Guo’s son.

Authorities later said they arrested a woman with the surname Tang and a man with the surname Hu. According to state news media, Ms. Tang snatched the child and handed it over to Mr. Hu, who later sold it. State television CCTV said the duo made a confession.

Before the meeting, a stunned Mr. Guo and his wife bought more than 1,000 pounds of candy to hand out to neighbors at the celebrations. Mr. Guo also cleaned up his house, throwing away his old belongings to commemorate a new beginning.

In an interview before reuniting with a talk show host, Chen Luyu, the parents oscillated between joy and paralysis. Ms. Guo’s wife, Ms. Zhang, broke down several times as she sat at the dinner table, wondering if her sons would blame her for not watching her closely enough.

Mr. Guo said he felt no resentment towards the couple raising his son. “How his son treats this couple is up to him in the future,” she said.

“If the child wants to be adopted by his adoptive parents, you just have to admit it openly and sincerely,” he said.

State media reports said that the young Mr. Guo said he would continue to live with the couple who raised him and who he said treated him well. But he said he would visit his birth parents often.

Elderly Mr. Guo told TV presenter Ms. Chen that he was happy with everything the future would bring.

“Our child has been found,” he said. “After that, only happiness remained.”

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