Despite his efforts, months turned to years, years stretched into a decade, and then that decade became two. At one point, Guo considered suicide.
But he never stopped looking.
“Only on the road, I felt I am a father,” he told a newspaper in 2015. “I have no reason to stop [searching]. And it’s impossible for me to stop.”
Now, he can. On Sunday, Guo and his wife were reunited with their son, Guo Xinzhen, who’s now in his mid-20s. As cameras rolled, the long-suffering parents buried their heads into the young man’s shoulder and wailed as they saw him for the first time in 24 years.
“My baby, you came back!” the mother said, according to the Morning Post report.
Not every child does. Hundreds of thousands of children are thought to have gone missing in China over the past four decades, The Washington Post reported in 2017, when the country was slowly starting to wake up to the problem. Since then, government officials have beefed up efforts to find victims and prosecute their abductors.
In Guo’s case, two people have been arrested and accused of abducting his son, Ministry of Public Security officials said Tuesday.
Ministry officials said a woman — identified only as Tang — kidnapped the then-2½-year-old in September 1997 while he was playing alone outside his home. She then linked up with her boyfriend at the time, a man identified as Hu, and the couple drove him to a nearby province, where Hu allegedly sold him.
In June, police used DNA to confirm they found Guo’s son.
Officials haven’t released information about how they identified Tang, 45, and Hu, 56, as kidnapping suspects, or how they came to believe this was the boy who was snatched 24 years ago.
But the director of a 2015 film made about Guo Gangtang’s search told a newspaper the son had been living near his father’s hometown. The family that raised him was relatively well-off, and he had received a university education.
Thousands of Chinese parents experience Guo Gangtang’s agony every year — a problem that has plagued the country for decades. There are no reliable numbers for how many children disappear in China each year, but academics estimate it could be anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000, The Post reported in 2017.
The roots of the abduction problem can be traced to traditional Chinese beliefs, combined with government corruption, The Post article noted. There is demand for children in villages where there is a strong preference for large families, especially sons — and gangs working with the police satisfied it. A custom, in which people with several children could donate one to relatives with none, provided cover for the black-market industry, while rising incomes fueled it financially.
In 2016, the Chinese government tried to fight the problem by setting up a national missing child alert system, according to the Morning Post. Officials teamed up with social media platforms to send out alerts to hundreds of millions of users. They claim that, in the first five years, it assisted in finding more than 4,700 missing children.
And last year, government officials launched the “Reunion Project,” an effort to speed up investigations into abduction cases, the outlet noted. Since the beginning of 2020, some 2,600 victims have been found and 372 suspects arrested.
Guo has helped. After the kidnapping, he not only searched for his son, but he also became a prominent member of missing-persons organizations. Through that work, he helped at least seven families reunite with their abducted children.
In 2015, a movie was made about Guo’s search for his son: “Lost and Love,” starring Hong Kong actor Andy Lau. The film ends in failure. The protagonist doesn’t find his son.
Someone may need to make a sequel.