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Abducted Toddler Reunited With Parents After 32 Years, Facial Recognition to Thank

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Kidnapped as a toddler 32 years ago, Mao Yin was finally and remarkably reunited with his birth parents Monday in the Chinese city of Xi'an.


On the 17th of October 1988, 2-year-old Mao Yin asked his father, Mao Zhenjing, for a glass of water on their way home from nursery in the city of Xian in Shaanxi province. They stopped at a nearby hotel entrance for a drink and while his father turned for just a moment, Mao Yin was taken.

For 32 years, Mao’s parents were in turmoil as they continued to desperately search for their son. “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,” The Guardian reported. She also volunteered, assisting in other missing children cases, aiding in the reunification of 29 children with their families.

“Hope is what motivates me… People should never lose hope. I believe, someday, I will finally find my son,” Li shared in an interview earlier this year.

Little did they know that their son had been trafficked, sold to a childless couple in the adjacent Sichuan province for 6,000 yuan ($840 in today’s money), according to BBC News.

CNN commented, “Mao was raised by his adoptive parents as Gu Ningning, without knowing his biological parents had been searching for him for more than three decades.”

That was until “late April [when] Xi’an police received tips saying a man from Sichuan Province in southwest China adopted a child from Xi’an years ago… After a series of investigations and comparisons [via facial recognition technology], police found a man surnamed Gu from the Sichuan city of Mianyang resembled the missing Mao, which he was later proven to be by a DNA test, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Li received the remarkable news on May 10th, Mother’s Day in China, that her son had been found, allowing her hope to finally be fulfilled.

One week later, in front of cameras and a large crowd, Mao was reunited with his parents where he ran toward them, all three embracing as they wept. Mao commented on his eagerness to spend time with his biological parents, with some news outlets reporting that he is planning on moving to Xian to be by them.

“There is no official tally on how many children are kidnapped in China each year. On the website Baby Come Home, a widely-used platform for Chinese parents to post missing child notices, more than 51,000 registered families are searching for their children,” CNN explained.

A reality documented in recent short film Kidnapped: The Search for China’s Missing Children:

The Guardian shed further light on China’s decades-long child kidnapping problem commenting that “some of the minors snatched from their parents have been directly exploited by adult criminals and coerced into begging, pickpocketing, forced [labor] or the sex trade” while “others have fed a market for adoptees.” A reality that Chinese authorities are now actively combating.