A desperate father has been reunited with his stolen son after 24 years of searching and over a half a million kilometres covered on his motorbike chasing tip-offs across China.
Guo Gangtang wept when he held Guo Xinzhen for the first time since his son was 2 years old, as they met after an epic hunt that spawned a blockbuster movie and captured the hearts of millions.
Guo’s son had been playing outside the family home in Shandong province in the country’s east in 1997 when a woman snatched him and took him to a bus station, where her then partner was waiting. Traffickers then sold him to a family in central China, police said.
Guo has spent the intervening years riding across China on a motorbike, reaching everywhere but the sprawling province of Xinjiang and Tibet, which is ruled by Beijing as an autonomous region.
His journey included battling highway robbers, sleeping under bridges and even begging when his money ran out.
His story was immortalised in Lost and Love, in which Hong Kong actor Andy Lau plays a father looking for his child. “Only by searching can I feel like a true father,” Lau’s character says in the 2015 film.
Kidnapping and child trafficking became widespread in China during the 80s, when the draconian one-child rule was enforced, and a cultural obsession with sons fuelled demand for abducted boys.
Guo and his son, who is now a teacher, were finally reunited after their DNA samples were matched through a police operation.
In a meeting set up by police who helped track down his son, Guo appeared to hold no ill feelings towards the couple who raised his son and sent him to university. He said: “It seems we have new relatives. If our son is willing to support his adoptive parents, we also accept that and respect his decision.”
Guo’s son was apparently tracked down after he gave a blood sample in June as part of a police operation to find missing children. Authorities were able to match his sample with his father’s.
Tong Bishan, of the ministry of public security’s criminal investigation bureau, said that a man and woman had been arrested in connection with Guo’s abduction, and that the inquiry was ongoing.
Over the years, Guo has helped seven other families find their lost children and raised awareness about child trafficking – still a taboo topic in China.
Guo told reporters that he had earlier visited the city where his son grew up, to help another father find his kidnapped boy.
“As the father of an abducted child, Guo Gangtang has always maintained a rational, calm state of mind and indomitable will in the 24 years of searching for his son, despite the pain and suffering of losing his child,” Tong told a press conference on Tuesday.
“While riding a motorcycle, he travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres in search of his child, while actively participating in anti-trafficking volunteer activities, and collecting timely feedback about missing and abducted children for the public security organs. Through the clues he provided, the public security organs found more than 100 children who had been abducted for many years,” Tong added.
News of the high-profile reunion triggered an outpouring of emotion on social media, with over nine million views.
“Parents never give up on their children! Guo’s struggle shows the depth of a father’s love,” one user wrote on the social media site Weibo.
From January to April this year, authorities rescued more than 700 missing or abducted children, and arrested 86 people in connection with their disappearances, the ministry of public security said.
Some of those children had been separated from their families for more than 30 years, it added.
Additional reporting by Wen Xu in Beijing
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