story of Guo Gangtang, a Shandong dad who has spent the past two decades searching for his lost son, has once again moved hearts across China.s Father’s Day comes and goes, the
On the morning of September 21st, 1997, Guo left home early as usual to go to work at a nearby mine as his 2-year-old son Guo Zhen played outside while his wife was cooking in the kitchen. At some point during the day, a strange woman is reported to have approached the boy and used a handkerchief to wipe his face. By the time that Guo arrived back home, his son was nowhere to found.
Dozens of fellow villagers in Guo’s Litaitun village, located in rural Shandong province, quickly set about searching everywhere for Zhen, making sure to check the local bus station, but finding no sign of the boy or of the strange woman.
Believing that his son had likely been abducted and taken far away, Guo began scouring the newspapers for any clues and writing tens of thousands of letters to police bureaus, volunteers, relatives, friends, and friends of friends across China. Whenever he would receive a promising lead, he would hop on his motorcycle and ride there as quickly as possible, no matter how far away.
Guo would always travel light, carrying few supplies and living on as little as 11 yuan a day. However, his satchel would always be stuffed full of flyers showing his son’s face and explaining what had happened to him. Often during his travels, Guo has had to go hungry or shelter under a bridge or inside a temple. Already more than 200,000 yuan in debt, he is often forced to take up a part-time job in order to earn enough money to make it back home.
Over the past 21 years, Guo has traveled to 29 different Chinese provinces, municipalities, and regions in search of his son, clocking more than 400,000 kilometers on the odometer (greater than the distance between the earth and moon), while also going through 10 motorcycles.
“It is only when I’m on the road looking for him that I feel like a father. I can’t stop because I can’t let my son down,” Guo said in 2015.
Despite his best efforts, Guo has never been able to locate his son, though he has managed to find at least seven lost children of other Chinese families during his journeys, always traveling with a long list of missing children.
“The reason I do this is very simple: I felt so guilty I didn’t look after my child,” he says. “When I find the kids of other people, their happiness is like a miracle. But I also think, why can’t a miracle happen to me?”
Since Zhen disappeared, Guo’s wife has given birth to another two boys. However, the family hasn’t taken a single photo together. Guo says that they are all waiting for Zhen’s return so that they can be a complete family once more.
In 2015, Guo’s tragic story was partially adapted for the big screen in the film Lost and Love where he was played by Hong Kong star Andy Lau. The movie and numerous news articles have helped to bring a great deal of attention to Guo’s case, but so far no happy ending.
“As long as there’s a ray of hope, I won’t give up,” said Guo. “My son’s name is Guo Zhen. He was born in April 1995. There’s a scar on the little toe of his left foot.”
There are no reliable figures for how many children are abducted each year in China, with estimates ranging anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000 kids. Most of the time, the children are kidnapped and then sold to childless couples in the countryside, because of the traditional preference for boys, male offspring are particularly prized. These kids then grow up not realizing that they had been abducted from their true parents as infants.
While it may seem like 21 years is too long to still hold out hope for a reunion, stranger things have happened. Early this year, a couple were finally reunited with their daughter, whom they hadn’t seen for more than 24 years.
During that time, the father, Wang Mingqing, became a driver for ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing. When he was working, Wang would give each one of his passengers a card with information about his lost daughter, telling them to share it on WeChat. Eventually, his persistence paid off with his story going viral, attracting the notice of a police sketch artist who took it upon himself to produce an image of what Wang’s daughter might look like today.
That drawing was circulated on social media and eventually found its way to Kang Ying, a 27-year-old mother living more than 3,000 kilometers away, who couldn’t help but notice that the image looked very much like her. A DNA test confirmed this suspicion.
A short time later, she was reunited with her father and mother in the middle of a massive media scrum on the street in Chengdu. Her first words to her parents were: “Dad, Mom, I’ve come home!”
[Images via NetEase]