'Thirty-three years of waiting, countless nights of yearning, and finally a map hand-drawn from memory, this is the moment of perfect release after 13 days.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 3, 2022. It has since been updated.
A man who was abducted at the age of four has reconnected with his birth mother after over three decades, thanks to the power of the internet. Thirty-seven-year-old Li Jingwei—who works in Guangdong Province in southern China—was able to find his way back to his birth family after a hand-drawn map of his childhood hometown gained attention in China. According to VICE, although Li knew that he had been kidnapped as a child, he couldn't remember the names of his birth parents, his village, or even his original name. However, he did remember the city he grew up in and certain notable landmarks around his home.
After posting a map online of his childhood home drawn from memory, it took only days for the 37-year-old to find his birth mother.https://t.co/QLyDxplu7H— VICE Asia (@viceasia) December 31, 2021
Since he'd had no luck getting leads from his adoptive parents or entering his DNA into a national database, Li—who was worried his birth parents wouldn't be alive for much longer—decided to harness the power of the internet. The day before Christmas, he posted a video on Douyin (the Chinese equivalent of TikTok) in which he showed a map he had drawn from a memory of his childhood home. The detailed pencil sketch included features like a building he believed to be a school, a bamboo forest, and a small pond.
"I'm a child who's finding his home. I was taken to Henan by a bald neighbor around 1989, when I was about four years old," he reportedly said in the video. "This is a map of my home area that I have drawn from memory." The video instantly took off on the social media platform and Li was soon able to narrow down his hometown with the help of authorities. Their investigation found that he might've been kidnapped from Zhaotong, a mountainous city in Yunnan, and sold to a family who had badly wanted a son in Lankao County in Henan Province, almost 2000km (about 1243 miles) away.
Social engineering has awful consequences:— Charmaine Yoest (@CharmaineYoest) July 14, 2021
"Historically, child abduction was linked, at least in part, to China’s one-child policy... some couples resorted to buying young boys on the black market to ensure they would have a son." https://t.co/7PnzQXeYuh
With traditional Chinese culture giving more preference to sons—and the country's strict decades-long one-child policy turning the sale of stolen children into a thriving business—many young abducted boys find their way onto the black market and are matched with families eager to have a son. This year, a number of high-profile cases of young men abducted as children reuniting with their birth families drew attention from across the world. One of them was the reunion of Guo Gangtang—a man in Shandong Province who spent 24 years riding across the country on a motorcycle in search of his long-lost child—and his son Guo Xinzhen in July.
Another case that inspired Li to launch an online effort to trace his birth parents was that of Sun Haiyang, who found his missing son after 14 years earlier in January 2022. "Seeing Sun Haiyang and Guo Gangtang successfully reunited with their families, I also hope to find my own birth parents, return home and reunite with my family," Li told local media after posting his hand-drawn map. Within days of his story garnering the attention of news outlets, local authorities, and netizens, Li was put in touch with potential family members.
My God, this is soooo moving! ❤️— Erik Solheim (@ErikSolheim) December 12, 2021
After more than a decade searching throughout China 🇨🇳, Sun Haiyang and his wife finally found their missing son Sun Zhuo. In 2007, he was lured away by a stranger while playing on the street.
On a phone call with a woman believed to potentially be his biological mother, she accurately described a scar on his chin he had gotten from falling off a ladder as a boy. Subsequent DNA tests confirmed that the pair were related, the Douyin account of China’s Public Security Ministry's Anti-Human Trafficking Office confirmed on December 28. The mother and son pair are due to meet each other for the first time in 33 years on January 1. Li's biological father is no longer alive. "Thirty-three years of waiting, countless nights of yearning, and finally a map hand-drawn from memory, this is the moment of perfect release after 13 days," Li wrote on his Douyin profile. "Thank you, everyone, who has helped me reunite with my family."