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December 8, 2021

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Father’s tears of joy after 14 years

A movie based on two parents’ search for their lost son has had a happy ending, in real life.

“Dearest” (2014), tells the story of an estranged couple who, upon the disappearance of their son, embark on a journey in search of him and in the process feel empowered in encountering a host of parents who suffered a similar misfortune.

The tear-jerker was a box office hit.

The film was based on Sun Haiyang, whose 4-year-old son, Sun Zhuo, was kidnapped in 2007 in Shenzhen, where Sun ran a thriving steamed stuffed-bun shop.

Sun turned his business into an information exchange space for missing children from around the country.

He offered a reward of 100,000 yuan (US$15,300) for information about his own son, which he later doubled to 200,000 yuan.

Thanks chiefly to “Operation Reunion” launched recently by the Ministry of Public Security, the Sun couple were reunited with their son on Monday after 14 years.

Another movie, “Lost and Love” (2015) and starring Andy Lau, is based on a similar real life story.

It was also a box office hit.

This July the movie created another stir when Guo Gangtang, on whom the movie’s hero was based, was reunited with his lost son, already a 26-year-old teacher.

Guo’s search, spanning 24 years and covering half-a-million kilometers on a succession of 10 motorcycles, was full of tribulations, sometimes life-threatening.

But Guo’s dedication and the information he gathered along the way and shared with police over the years led to the finding of more than 100 missing children.

While Guo’s reunion with his son could be in part attributed to publicity from the movie, it cannot be separated from the coordinated move by the Ministry of Public Security from May to June launched in Jinan, Shandong Province, focusing on the use of cutting edge forensic technology.

The Ministry says the number of missing or abducted children rescued nationwide as a result of “Operation Reunion” was 8,307 for the first 11 months of this year, resulting in the arrest of 690 suspects.

The longest a victim had been separated from their family was 74 years.

To facilitate the campaign, the ministry had publicized 3,000 venues nationwide for taking free blood samples from anyone who felt the need.

DNA testing has been a key tool in linking parents and their children.

Mei Han, a journalist with the Jinan Times interviewed Sun Haiyang for an article covering several parents of missing children.

Asked the reason for the spate of happy endings recently, Mei cited parents’ perseverance as the primary cause, noting that with Guo and Sun successful in finding their sons, the four most high-profile cases resulted in happy endings.

The other high profile cases are Peng Gaofeng, whose son disappeared in 2008 and was found in 2011, and Shen Junliang, whose son went missing in 2005 and was found last year.

Most kidnappings involve sons.

In traditional Chinese families, there is a time-honored saying that of the three kinds of filial impiety, the failure to produce a son to carry on the family line is a cardinal sin.

But there are also practical reasons for having a son: parents traditionally depend on sons to support them in their old age.

This might partly account for the fact that the kidnapping of children has been more of an issue in economically backward regions, a remnant of diehard conservative attitudes as well as economic vulnerability.

By comparison, abductions of children are more or less unheard of these days in cities like Shanghai.

According to local police, Shanghai has been quite insignificant in terms of abductions, or in adoptions of abducted children.

There have been no reports of such cases for the past five years, and the backlog of unresolved cases is in single digits.

Meanwhile, the changing perception about having a son to provide for old age is also undergoing a metamorphosis in response to changing circumstances as a result of China’s rapid socio-economic development, which is showcased in the following aspects:

First, the production of a boy is a safeguard for old age care. But boys not brought up or educated properly would very likely sink deeper and deeper into the mire of poverty.

It would be difficult to expect economically embarrassed children to provide adequately for their aging parents.

Another changing situation is that increasingly sophisticated and improved social welfare, particularly in terms of medical insurance, pensions and institutionalized old age care, means more and more people can depend on the well-developed social net in their old age, rather than their family members, who would probably be busy pursuing their own careers, given the changing demographic trends.

Another factor discouraging kidnapping more unexpected:

The raging pandemic, with its strict containment measures, lockdowns, travel controls and bans, and tough origin and contact-tracing measures, have provided unexpected opportunities for uncovering suspicious elements in the population.

Technological advances have also proved formidable deterrents.

Wider access to the cyberspace enables sharing of information in real time across all segments of the population throughout the country, making absolute concealment far more difficult.

Development in facial recognition technology and the ubiquitous surveillance cameras in public spaces also make it futile to try to escape the net of justice.

It might not be an exaggeration to predict that with the passage of time the number of kidnappings will continue to decline steadily, in sync with socio-economic development.


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