Sun Zhuo, a Chinese teenager, was reunited with his father, Sun Haiyang, and his mother, Peng Siying, after being abducted for over 14 years. Kidnapped from his parents at age 4 in Shenzhen, China, the family was brought back together on Monday after an incredible search effort was reinvigorated thanks to a movie inspired by their story.
“After 14 years and 57 days, he is a head taller than his mother,” his father told the People’s Daily in China. “He brought us local specialties from where he lives now. He is the Sun Zhuo that all of us have looked for all these years.”
The two parents wept out of joy in a recording of their reunion posted to the Chinese social media app Weibo, which has since risen to become one of the most popular videos on the platform. In just three days, the video has garnered over 23 million views.
Sun’s parents never gave up the search to find their son, selling properties and altering social media handles to “Sun Haiyang Looking for Son” in the hope of one day reuniting with their kidnapped boy.
Sun Haiyang reportedly traveled to every region in China looking for his son, according to the Ministry of Public Security. He even offered up a $31,000 reward for any information on his whereabouts, and renamed a steamed bun shop the couple owned “A Shop to Look for my Son.”
“I was ready to spend all my money, and even borrow money,” he told the South China Morning Post.
The family’s story exploded in public media attention after a 2014 film entitled Dearest. The film about human trafficking in China claimed that Sun Zhuo’s story was a major influence. The film by director Peter Chan went on to gross over $50 million in Hong Kong and reignited public outcry to solve the human trafficking problem in China.
Amazingly, authorities eventually tracked Sun’s whereabouts down to the eastern province of Shandong, after using facial recognition technology to find a suspect who went by the surname “Wu.”
Wu was allegedly connected to two other child abductions, including Sun Zhuo’s, and authorities were able to confirm Sun’s identity with DNA analysis. After being abducted at the age of 4, he was reportedly sold to a couple with two daughters who really wanted a son.
Due to the demand for baby boys in more traditional areas of China, a black market has grown over the years, only exacerbated by China’s one child policy. Baby girls are often given up for adoption. In an effort to curb the problem, China has made death the maximum punishment for human trafficking, with many buyers also facing up to three years in jail.
The couple who raised Sun Zhuo reportedly had no idea that the child was stolen, and they were both released on bail pending trial.
According to CNN, it is not known how many children go missing in China every year, but the U.S. government estimates the number to be in the tens of thousands. China is ranked “Tier 3” by the government’s anti-trafficking agency, meaning that the country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
In a surprising decision, Sun Zhuo said that he wished to stay with his adoptive parents and two sisters.
Sun Zhuo said that he was only recently made aware that they were not his birth parents, and was told by teachers at his school when questioned by police. He told the South China Morning Post that his adoptive parents treat him very well and that he gets good grades in school.
Another high-profile child abduction case was solved in July, as well, when a man who rode his motorcycle around China for over 24 years was finally reunited with his son. His story was also made into a film in 2015, entitled Lost and Love. Renewed interest in solving human trafficking has reportedly led the Chinese government to find nearly 8,000 missing children.