“I was busy in my private clothing store with my wife, so my elder daughter took my five-year-old son Xiaosong to buy milk, ” Chaohua Xiao recalled. When his daughter came back alone, Mr. Xiao and his wife went panicked. They called the police and asked all their relatives and friends to search over the city, but no trace was found.
That was seven years ago. Mr. Xiao clearly remembers the date, February 14th 2007. “It was three days before Spring Festival. Every family was looking forward to a family reunion dinner,” said Mr. Xiao. But while other families were celebrating Spring Festival, the Xiao’s was immersed in grief. Since then, Chinese New Year is a painful time for this family.
In China, child trafficking has been a long-lasting social issue. China National Radio reported last year estimated 20,000 children are kidnapped every year. Most are illegally adopted by couples unable to give birth, while some are forced into prostitution or labor, according to China National Plan of Action of Combating Trafficking in Women and Children in 2008-2012.
“Losing a child means losing everything for a family,” said Mr. Xiao. Soon after Xiaosong went missing, Mr. Xiao sold his clothing store and put all the money in advertisements-publishing notices on television, handing out brochures and putting up posters on streets. Xiaosong’s photos even appear on lighters and poker cards.
“Someone called us and asked to trade information with money. We have been deceived many times but we still pay for more clues…because we don’t want to let any chance go, ” Mrs. Xiao said, her voice choked.
Not satisfied with advertisements, Mr. Xiao started a searching across China. “Fujian, Zhejiang, Shandong… I have stepped over all these places, half of China,” said he. He met many parents on the way with similar experiences. In 2010, Mr. Xiao and other parents bought a van to extend their journey. It soon won financial support from Professor Jianrong Yu, the founder of renowned Chinese charity “Finding Missing Children”.
“We have so far completed seven journeys within two years. The most recent one starts from March 8th,” said Mr. Xiao. Mr. Xiao and other three parents set out from Beijing and drove their van, covered with red slogans, across 17 cities in northern China. At every stop, a 20-meter poster of photos of 2,000 missing children was displayed and many brochures were handed out. “We hope more people can be aware of the severity of this issue,” said Xinghua Wu, a father who lost his one-year-old baby five years ago.
“Most families don’t find their children – they are not as persistent as Xiao and I are. They give up so earlier! They are not qualified parents!” Mr. Wu said. To save money for this trip, he and other parents stay in the cheapest accommodation they can find, sometimes even without baths.
In Hebei province, they find a town named Wenan, notorious for buying children from kidnappers. Now an activist fighting for the practice, Weitao Gao, is one of the kidnapped children who have grown up here. “I remember that I was kidnapped by a woman in red. When I came here, my adopted parents forced me to believe they are my birth parents and make me memorize their names,” said Mr. Gao.
He didn’t know his exact age, “maybe 25 or 26? ” he said. Mr. Gao has spent an unhappy childhood at Wenan Town. His adopted parents are strict and always lock him at home. Given Mr. Gao’s rebellious behaviors, his adopted parents bought an one-year-old son next year. “They want to buy boys to raise them when they are old. It is an old custom in China, especially in rural areas,” said Mr. Gao.
Since Mr. Gao started to report the tradition of child-trade in this town, he has been bombarded with blackmails. Gradually, he cut down all the connections with his adopted family. “I have never experienced love since I was young. Everything is a nightmare to me. I want to find my parents and I won’t have faith to have my own family if I don’t know my birth parents,” Mr. Gao said.
Last year some volunteers found Mr. Gao’s information matches a woman’s descriptions. Mr. Gao immediately did a maternity test with her, but it turns out they have no genetic relations. Despite this fact, Mr. Gao feels really compassionate about this mother’s experience; her name is Xuexia Zhang, living in Guizhou Province. Twenty-five years ago, a man in black jacket kidnapped her son.
“That was a snowy day. I hate myself why not taking my son with me to work,” she blogs about her life. Her blogs show the pain of parents. Unable to bear the despair, her husband committed suicide ten years ago. Ms. Zhang is now living alone with her small teahouse.
An old photo album is Ms. Zhang’s everything; it collects all the past memories of her happy family. Likewise, Mr. Xiao also keeps his son’s school bag and photos.
“One glance at you would be enough.” Mr. Xiao wrote this slogan on all of his advertisements. He said as long as his son is having a happy life, he feels no regret.