In 1987, Li Jingzhi and her then-1-year-old son Mao Yin were at Xi’an City zoo when he spotted a worm on the ground. It was a memory the mom will never forget.
“He was about one-and-a-half years old at the time,” Li told the BBC. “We took him to the Xi’an City zoo. He saw a worm on the ground. He was very curious and pointed to the worm saying ‘Mama, worm!’ And as I carried him out of the zoo, he had the worm in his hand and put it close to my face.”
Mao was Li’s only child and she wasn’t going to have any more children, the BBC reports. And she had big plans for the little boy she nicknamed Jia Jia, meaning “great”.
“Jia Jia was a very well-behaved, smart, obedient, and sensible child. He didn’t like to cry. He was very lively and adorable. He was the kind of child that everyone liked when they saw him.”
Roughly a year after that day at the zoo, Li went out of town for a few days for work. Mao stayed at home with his father. It was during that work trip that she received a telegram that read, “‘Emergency at home; return right away.’ I didn’t know what had happened.”
When she returned she learned her son had gone missing. “My mind went blank. I thought perhaps he had got lost. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to find him.” It was October of 1988.
According to the BBC, Mao’s father had picked him up from school and stopped at a small hotel on their way home to get some water. The dad had reportedly turned his back for one or two minutes, in that time, Mao disappeared. Li initially thought that “perhaps my son was lost and couldn’t find his way home and that kind-hearted people would find him and bring him back to me.”
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The couple searched high and low for their son, posting flyers and more, but nothing helped bring their son back for years, 32 years to be exact.
“My heart hurt… I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream,” Li told the BBC. “I felt as though my heart had been emptied.” What Li didn’t know at the time was that due to China’s one-child policy to control the country’s population had created an uptick in child abductions, especially within families who couldn’t produce sons.
“Sometimes on TV, there would be notices about missing children, but I never thought that they had been abducted and sold. I just thought they were lost.” She especially didn’t believe that her own son could get wrapped up in such a vicious scheme.
Li quickly became obsessed with finding Mao. She would hear his voice when he wasn’t there, dreamed about him begging her to find him. The mom admitted that her mom was concerned she was having a mental breakdown. She then went to see a doctor as a result and received some sage advice.
“‘I can treat you for your physical illnesses, but as for the illness in your heart, that’s up to you,'” the doctor told her. “His words made me think all that night. I felt I couldn’t go on like this. If I didn’t try to control my emotions, I might really go crazy. If I became insane, I wouldn’t be able to go out to look for my child and one day if my child came back and saw a crazy mother, it would be so pitiful for him.”
It was in the years following her son’s disappearance that she began working with networks and organizations that help families in the same situation. And many times she would get to see those families reunite with their missing child.
“I would ask myself: ‘Why couldn’t this be my son?’ But when I saw the other parents hugging their child, I felt happy for them. I also felt that if they could have this day, I definitely could have this day too. I felt hopeful. Seeing their child go back to them, I had hope that one day my child would return to me.”
Eventually, those hopes and dreams of finding her son would become a reality.
On May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day, Li got a call from Xi’an’s Public Security Bureau with the amazing news… “Mao Yin has been found. I didn’t dare to believe it was real,” the BBC reports. “It was when I got the DNA results that I really believed that my son had really been found.”
Mao was married and running his own interior design business. Li was worried because he has lived a whole life that he wouldn’t recognize her. But on the day they reunited, he screamed out “Mother!” before running into Li’s arms.
Mao was renamed and was raised by the couple who bought him. He had no idea the woman he kept seeing on television, Li, was in fact his mom and she was looking for him. “After my son came back, he also wanted to find an image or memory of the life he had when he was still with me, but as of now, he still hasn’t found it,” she told the BBC.
Nonetheless, the mother and son have stayed in contact and he comes to visit her from time to time. And although they can’t make up the time lost, Li couldn’t be happier to have her son back. And she still plans on helping other families find their children. Beautiful.
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