In September 1997, a boy in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong was playing outside his home when a stranger approached and snatched him.
For the next 24 years, the two-year-old’s heartbroken father, Guo Gangtang, traversed the country on the back of a motorcycle to search for his son, racking up some 300,000 miles and inspiring a movie along the way.
Guo’s wish was answered on Sunday, when the father and son reunited at a ceremony held by the public security bureau of Liaocheng, a city in Shandong. Overwhelmed with emotion, Guo clutched his son in a tight embrace as others looked on in tears.
Guo and his wife, Zhang Wenge, lost their son at a time when the abductions of children, often boys, was the most prevalent, owing in part to strict enforcement of a one-child policy in the 1980s and 90s and a traditional preference for sons. Some couples, desperate to have male offspring, turned to traffickers.
The birth restrictions have since been effectively scrapped, but they have brought on unintended consequences that continue to reverberate today, including an aging population with few children to support their parents and the state pension system.
Most parents who lost their children to abduction never saw them again, but police found Guo’s son and arrested a man and a woman for his alleged abduction.
The identity of the son, now in his mid-20s, was confirmed through a DNA test in June, the Ministry of Public Security said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Since 2016, the ministry said it had found 2,609 missing children, including some who lost touch with their parents over 60 years ago. It credited the success to the expanded collection of blood samples and information such as photos, as well as improved investigative techniques, although it did not say how it tracked down Guo’s son for a DNA test last month in the first place.
The reunion was a dream come true for Guo, who was 27 when his son disappeared and who now sports a head of white hair.
According to state media reports, Guo, now 51, spent the last 24 years tirelessly searching for his son on his motorcycle, with missing person’s fliers stuffed in his bag and banners printed with his toddler’s enlarged photo attached to his backseat.
“Where are you, son? Father’s looking for you to come home!” read the red-worded banner that would flap in the wind on the tail of Guo’s motorcycle.
Riding across almost every province in the country, even going over some places twice, Guo reportedly scrapped 10 motorcycles during his decades-long journey.
While searching, Guo also volunteered in anti-abduction efforts. Information that he provided aided the police in locating more than 100 missing children, state media outlet CCTV reported.
Guo’s fatherly dedication made him the inspiration for a character in Lost and Love, a 2015 movie about child abductions in China.
Now that Guo is finally reunited with his son, Canto-pop icon Andy Lau, who played the character based on Guo, recorded a video message congratulating the father.
“I was acquainted with brother Guo from the movie Lost and Love,” Lau said in the video. “Today I feel very happy and inspired because Guo’s son who was kidnapped for 24 years, is finally reunited with his parents thanks to the efforts of public security authorities.”
The long-awaited reunion has captured nationwide attention. Hashtags about Guo’s case have been viewed more than a billion times on Chinese microblogging site Weibo and have attracted a torrent of heartfelt comments on social media.
“In 24 years he turned from middle-age to old age. His hair has completely whitened. This is heart-wrenching,” read one comment on Weibo.
“It’s a good thing that Guo and the police never gave up,” said another.
Lost and Love ended with Lau’s character forging ahead alone in his search for his long lost child. Many now call for a sequel to the 2015 movie, this time including the fulfilling conclusion to the protagonist’s arduous journey.
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