Peng Wenle together with his father Peng Gaofeng (彭高峰) shortly after their reunion.
A seven year old boy who was kidnapped in Shenzhen in 2008 has been reunited with his father yesterday, in a miracle that could only have happened in this day and age, thanks to the internet.
The emotional reunion was witnessed and live-tweeted by Phoenix Weekly’s 《凤凰周刊》 senior correspondent Deng Fei (邓飞), who accompanied Peng Gaofeng to Pizhou, Jiangsu Province following a tip-off that his son was there. Deng had interviewed Peng three years ago, shortly after his son, Peng Wenle (彭文乐), disappeared, and since then has become something of an activist against child trafficking.
Below is an edited translation of a report that appeared on Phoenix Weekly:
The tip-off before Chinese New Year
A week ago, on Feb 1, just before the start of the Spring Festival in Shenzhen, Peng and his wife felt completely unable to share in the joy of the festivities happening around them. This would be their third Chinese New Year without their son.
That evening, Peng received a call from a university student in Jiangsu Province who said he saw a child in Pizhou that resembled his son. The student had come across his son’s picture, circulating on Sina Weibo, after a grassroots campaign led by Professor Yu Jianrong (于建嵘) inspired Chinese internet users nationwide to take pictures of beggar children they come across and put them online.
Initially, Peng was unexcited by the call. Over the last three years, he had received many such calls and each time he was left disappointed and depressed. The student told Peng that he would try to snap a picture of the child and send it to him. On the eve of Chinese New Year, that picture came. When Peng saw the picture, he felt his jaw dropping to the ground. The child was his.
Immediately, Peng got in touch with the Shenzhen police, who then, together with their counterparts in Pizhou, decided that Peng should go there soon after the Chinese New Year. Journalist Deng Fei flew in from Hunan to meet with Peng in Pizhou, and began live-tweeting their journey together.
On the fourth day of the Spring Festival, Peng arrived in Pizhou with Shenzhen police officials. They were told by the local police officials that the child was currently being adopted by the woman he now lives with.
On the fifth day of the New Year, just before they arrived at the woman’s home, they found out that little Wenle was unexpected not around at home. He had gone to his adopted grandmother’s house to play. Peng, by then already an emotional wreck, was unsure if he would eventually get to see his son.
One of Peng’s many emotional breakdowns before the eventual reunion with his son.
As the distraught father made his way to the police station, journalist Deng, in his live tweets, reported that Peng was constantly breaking down along the way, hands cold and trembling, smoking one cigarette after another.
At the police station, Peng burst into tears the moment he saw his son. The police had to try to calm him down, telling him he was shocking the child. At this point, the child told the policeman, “That man crying is my dad, I remember him.” All this while, his adopted mother was watching by the side, with tears in her eyes.
Overjoyed, Peng called his wife, screaming over the phone, “It’s our child, it’s our child!” Little Wenle then took over the phone, greeting his mom in their hometown’s Hubei/Qianjiang dialect.
While many other abducted children suffer the fate of broken limbs and cut tongues, Wenle was relatively lucky in the sense that he was well taken care of in his new home. His family had given him the new name Han Longfei, and he was doing very well in school in Primary 2.
What happened in 2008
As it turns out, Deng’s adopted father was the man who kidnapped Wenle in 2008. At that time, he was working in Shenzhen and having only one daughter, he wanted a son badly. Last year, he died of cancer.
Security camera recordings shown to Peng shortly after Wenle’s disappearance showed that the child was forcefully taken away by a man while he was playing on the streets. Wenle was struggling to get free, and despite the curious stares of onlookers, nobody made any attempt to mitigate the situation and the man managed to quickly disappear into the crowd.
Peng and his wife turned their store into a massive billboard for their lost child.
The distraught parents decided to turn their store into a massive billboard, offering a reward of RMB100,000 for anyone who could provide a tip as to where their child was. Although the signs were seen by thousands of people everyday, nobody came forward with any information.
Peng got online, put up his story on a blog, and would eagerly log on to his QQ hoping to receive messages from people, but each day he would be disappointed. Meanwhile, his wife was literally washing her face with tears everyday, putting all the blame on herself for having lost her child and bursting to tears each time she saw other kids hand in hand with their parents.
Eventually Peng decided to go searching for his son full time, leaving their long-distance calls business (话吧) in the care of his wife. Because of his child’s unique facial features, Peng was sure that some day, he would be able to find his son. Each year, he would faithfully go to the insurance company to pay the year’s dues for his child, and when asked by the agent, “Didn’t you lose your child?”, his reply was “I know I will find him.”
Other parents of kidnapped children that Peng met along the way.
In the three years while Peng was on the road looking for his child, he came to meet many other parents in the same situation as he was and struck up firm friendships with some of them.
They shared each other’s sorrow, formed QQ groups to share information, and went on various missions together to help free kidnapped children, even those that were not their own. Even though Peng had no clue where his own son was, he took part in these missions willingly, knowing that if he could help just one child return home, he would share in their joy too.
The road home
While Peng has now been reunited with his son, the road home will be a long one. Deng Fei explains in a tweet last night at 23:27: “Peng Gaofeng sees that the child can’t seem to bear to part with his adopted mother and is very unhappy. Hence he has decided to stay another night so that the child can spend one last evening with her. Tonight, that poor village woman and the child will have a lot to say to each other. I can’t help but be moved to tears.”
Later in the night, Peng took to the computer himself, tweeting, “Wenle is very healthy and is doing very well in Primary 2. My only worry now is that he will not want to come home with me. This change for him will probably be more traumatic for him at this age than his kidnapping was for him at the age of three. Please, can anyone give me any idea how we can put Wenle on the road to recovery!”
In another tweet, Peng also vowed to come back as a volunteer to help other parents reunite with their children.
We’ll be bringing you more updates of little Wenle’s journey home, so watch this space.
Previously on Shanghaiist:
Mother finds photo of kidnapped son online, joins others in search for lost children on Sina Weibo
Did 50,000+ Sina Weibo users help find kidnapped boy in less than three days?