A Chinese man who was stolen from his family as a toddler has been reunited with his parents after 32 years.
Mao Yin was snatched in 1988 when he was walking home from nursery with his father, aged just two and half.
His parents finally embraced him again on Monday afternoon, in the western city of Xi’an, where he was born.
After Mao vanished, his mother, Li Jingzhi, 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 television shows.
That long campaign helped 29 other families find their own missing children, and made her search one of the most famous in the country. “Hope is what motivates me,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “I believe that someday I will find my son.”
After more than three decades, a tip-off in late April finally led to that long-awaited reunion. Police received information about a boy from Xi’an who had been sold to a family just over 600km (370 miles) away, for 6,000 yuan, state media reported.
Authorities utilised facial recognition technology to help with the search, using toddler photos to create a possible photofit of the adult Mao and comparing the image to ones in a national database, state TV reported.
A DNA test confirmed Mao Yin’s identity, and on 10 May, Mother’s Day in China, police told Li that her son had been found. “This is the best gift I have ever got on Mother’s Day,” she was quoted as saying.
Officials arranged the reunion for just a week later, in front of a sizeable crowd, and ranks of television cameras. Mao, who had been waiting in a side room, ran towards his mother when the door was opened.
The family embraced, all weeping, and Mao’s father, Mao Zhenjing, 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 Ningning, Mao had been brought up in the city of Mianyang, in neighbouring Sichuan province, without any idea 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 their home city of Xi’an, and at one point followed a lead to Sichuan only to find 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 adult criminals and coerced into begging, pickpocketing, forced labour or the sex trade.
Others have fed a market for adoptees, both among Chinese couples who want a son, and from orphanages seeking the large donations that foreign adoptive parents are obliged to make.
Abductors have included family planning authorities, who under China’s one-child policy had powers to seize children from parents who exceeded their quotas.
In one case uncovered by the Los Angeles Times, officials split up identical twins. One girl was given up for adoption by an American family, who believed they were rescuing a child from life in an institution.
In the last year alone, Chinese authorities have reunited more than 6,300 snatched children with their families using DNA tests, Xinhua news agency reported.
But that represents just a tiny fraction of missing children. Baby Come Home, the biggest charity for families seeking abducted relatives, has received reports of nearly 36,000 cases since 1978, and the true number is likely to be much higher.
Mao, who runs an interior design company, now 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.