He wasn’t even 4 years old when he was abducted. This week, at 18 and a head taller than his mother, Sun Zhuo was reunited with his family.
“This is the Sun Zhuo we have all been working so hard to find all these years,” his father, Sun Haiyang, wrote Monday on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform. The meeting came seven years after Sun Haiyang’s campaign to find his son inspired the box-office hit “Dearest” in 2014.
Sun Haiyang and his wife, Peng Siying, were reunited Monday with their son in a meeting organized for reporters by the country’s Ministry of Public Security in the city of Shenzhen.
In 2007, Sun Zhuo was three-and-a-half years old when he was abducted near the entrance of a kindergarten in Shenzhen, the ministry said in a statement on its website.
He is but one of 8,307 missing or abducted children who have been found since the ministry launched an operation to track down missing and abducted children five years ago, according to the ministry’s Criminal Investigations Bureau.
The family’s case highlights a tragic legacy of China’s one-child policy, which the government has abandoned in recent years. Although figures are unclear on the total number of children who go missing, the abduction and sale of children is a regular occurrence in China, where there is a black market for buyers to adopt male children, who are traditionally preferred over females.
Sun Zhuo was brought by authorities in the province of Shandong to meet his birth parents after DNA testing identified him as their missing boy, according to the ministry’s statement.
Investigators had tracked the man suspected of abducting him to the province of Hubei via a law enforcement database and technology, including public surveillance cameras, the ministry said.
Closed-circuit television footage from the time showed a man in his mid-40s in a white shirt lure the child away with a toy.
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“At the beginning, when we first lost him, lots of my relatives told me to have another child. But I believed Sun Zhuo can definitely be found,” Sun Haiyang told reporters in a video seen by NBC News.
The Sun family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sun Haiyang took his son back to his adoptive parents in Shandong Province on Wednesday, according to The Jinan Times.
En route, the pair stopped in the family’s ancestral home in Hubei Province, where they were greeted by large crowds and firecrackers, video posted on Weibo by the Chinese news outlet The Paper showed. Sun Haiyang told the newspaper that he believed Sun Zhuo would return to them once he completed his studies.
“After all, he is still a child. He needs some time. He will come back,” he said in a separate video published by The Jinan Times and viewed by NBC News. He added that he still hoped for the “best possible outcome.”
In a separate interview with The Yangtse Evening Post on Thursday, Sun Haiyang said he did not want to see Sun Zhuo’s adoptive parents, as “he had nothing to say to them.”
His quest to find his son — which had him travel across China and offer 200,000 yuan (more than $31,000) as a reward — inspired the hit movie “Dearest,” directed by Hong Kong’s Peter Chan. The 2014 hit drew public attention to the problem of child abductions in China.
Sun Haiying told the state-run China Central TV that he had received thousands of supportive messages on Weibo overnight after the film’s release.
Chan included Sun Haiying’s real cellphone number in the film, and Sun frequently received calls with tips and clues in the years that followed.
“They gave me a lot of hope,” he told CCTV on Tuesday.
The meeting in Shenzhen on Monday also saw two other sets of parents reunited with their abducted children, who were reported missing in 2004 and 2007, in China’s southern Guangdong Province.
All three families had been apart for over a decade. Nine suspects have been arrested in relation to the three abductions, according to the ministry.
Reunions between separated families are not uncommon in China. In July, a Chinese father was reunited with his abducted son after 24 years.