She Helped Reunite 29 Kids With Their Families. Now She Found Her Own Son After 32 Years

The mother's search for her son spanned almost three decades and over half of China, during which she distributed 100,000 flyers and followed 300 leads. Nothing helped, but she didn't give up.

Cover image via South China Morning Post & AFP

This is Li Jingzhi with her two-year-old son Mao Yin

Born on 23 February 1986, Mao Yin was kidnapped when he was about 32 months old.

During the incident that happened on 17 October 1988, the boy's father, Mao Zhenjing, was bringing him home from a nursery in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, Northwest China.

According to a report in the BBC, the boy, nicknamed Jiajia, was taken from the entrance of a hotel after his father looked away briefly and left him alone there to fetch some water he had asked for.

What followed in the years after her son was taken is the story of a mother's sheer perseverance, who would help reunite 29 abducted children with their families while not giving up the search for her own

Li's search for her son spanned almost three decades and over half of China.

During her decades-long search, she quit her job to focus on looking for Mao Yin, handed out some 100,000 flyers in more than 10 provinces and municipalities, appeared on numerous Chinese television shows to appeal for help, including The X Factor, and followed 300 leads.

Nothing helped, but she didn't give up.

In 2007, Li joined a group called 'Baby Come Home' to help other parents look for their missing children. She helped reunite 29 children with their families, according to state media.

"Because at that time I had been searching for my son for over two decades, I knew how hard it could be," she was quoted as saying by SCMP back in January this year.

"I also wondered if someone could give the same help to my son to find his family."

Amidst all this, the boy — who was renamed Gu Ningning — was sold to a childless couple for 6,000 yuan (RM3,679 in today's value)

While state authorities have not released any information about his adoptive parents, state broadcaster CCTV reported that the boy grew up in the neighbouring province of Sichuan.

In April this year, police received a tip about a man from the Sichuan province — about 1,000km from Xian — who had adopted a baby years earlier. This prompted the authorities to launch a new search.

And in early May, police found the boy, now a 34-year-old man.

According to reports, they used facial recognition technology to analyse old photos of the boy in which they "aged" his face. Later, his identity was confirmed using DNA testing.

On 10 May — Mother's Day in China — authorities informed Li about her son. "This is the best gift I have ever got," the mother said.

In the video below from Guardian News, 60-year-old Li rushes towards her son as he emerges from a side door to a conference room and runs into his mother's arm.

"I don't want him to leave me any more. I won't let him leave me any more."

Mao Yin, who now runs a home decoration business in the Sichuan province, said he was "not sure" about the future, but would spend some time with his biological parents.

"To be honest, I'm not quite sure about the future yet," he said, adding that he will go back to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, to deal with some of his own issues.

Meanwhile, the mother said that she will continue with efforts to fight against kidnapping.

Reunited, once again.

Image via BBC

Child kidnappings are all too common in China, where an estimated 20,000 children are abducted each year

According to a 2015 BBC report, an illegal market in children has developed in China, in which babies are being openly sold online, mostly as a result of the country's now-defunct one-child policy.

Meanwhile, these stories of family reunions have touched hearts online: