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Man kidnapped as a boy reunites with birth mom after posting hand-drawn map of home

'Countless nights of yearning and [a map] drawn from memory, this is the moment of perfect release.'

Man kidnapped as a boy reunites with birth mom after posting hand-drawn map of home
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Tippapatt

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 3, 2022. It has since been updated.

Abducted at the age of four, Li Jingwei has finally reunited with his birth mother after three decades, all thanks to the internet. Now 37 and working in Guangdong Province, China, Li found his family after a hand-drawn map of his childhood hometown went viral. Although he remembered little about his early years—including the names of his birth parents or his village—he never forgot the city and landmarks of his childhood, VICE reports.


With no leads from his adoptive parents or a national DNA database, Li feared his birth parents might not be alive much longer. So, the day before Christmas, he turned to the internet. He posted a video on Douyin (China’s TikTok), featuring a detailed pencil sketch of his childhood home, complete with landmarks like 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 2,000km (about 1,243 miles) away.


Traditional Chinese preference for sons, combined with the strict one-child policy, has turned the sale of abducted children into a widespread issue, with many boys sold on the black market to families desiring a son. This year, many high-profile cases of young men abducted as children reuniting with their birth families drew attention from around the world. One 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 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.


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."

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