Abducted Chinese boy reunited with family after 30 years thanks to map he drew as a child

The moment Li Jingwei falls to the ground after finally seeing his mother for the first time in more than 30 years

A long-lost son who didn’t know his real name or where he was born has finally found his way back to his family more than 30 years later thanks to a map he put together as a child.

Li Jingwei was a victim of child trafficking In 1989 at the age of four, when a neighbour lured him away by saying they would go look at cars, which were rare in rural villages in China.

That was the last time he saw his home. The neighbour took him behind a hill to a road where three bicycles and four other kidnappers were waiting.

He cried, but they put him on a bike and rode away.

“I wanted to go home but they didn’t allow that,” Li said. “Two hours later, I knew I wouldn’t be going back home and I must have met bad people.”

An emotional reunion between brothers. Credit: AP

He remembers being taken on a train and eventually he was sold to a family in another province, Henan.

“Because I was too young, only four, and I hadn’t gone to school yet, I couldn’t remember anything, including the names [of his parents and hometown],” he said.

Etched in his memory, however, was the landscape of his village in the southwestern city of Zhaotong, Yunnan province.

He remembered the mountains, bamboo forest, and a pond next to his home - all the places where he used to play.

After his abduction, Li said he drew maps of his village every day until he was 13 so he wouldn’t forget.

Li Jingwei with his map. Credit: AP

Before he reached school age, he would draw them on the ground, and after entering school he drew them in notebooks. It became an obsession, he said.

More than 30 years after his abduction, a meticulous drawing of his village landscape helped police locate it and track down his biological mother and siblings.

He was inspired to look for his biological family after two reunions made headlines last year.

In July, a Chinese father, Guo Gangtang, was united with his son after searching for 24 years, and in December, Sun Haiyang was reunited with his kidnapped son after 14 years.

Reports of child abductions occur regularly in China, though how often they happen is unclear. The problem is aggravated by restrictions that until 2015 allowed most urban couples only one child.

His map was drawn from memory. Credit: AP

Li decided to speak with his adoptive parents for clues and consulted DNA databases, but nothing turned up.

Then he found volunteers who suggested he post a video of himself on Douyin, China's equivalent to social media platform TikTok, along with the map he drew from memory.

It took him only 10 minutes to redraw what he had drawn hundreds, perhaps thousands of times as a child, he said.

That post received tens of thousands of views. By then, Li said police had already narrowed down locations based on his DNA sample, and his hand-drawn map helped villagers identify a family.

Li finally connected with his mother over the telephone. She asked about a scar on his chin which she said was caused by a fall from a ladder.

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“When she mentioned the scar, I knew it was her,” Li said.

Other details and recollections fell into place, and a DNA test confirmed his heritage. In an emotional reunion on New Year’s Day, he saw his mother for the first time since he was four.

As Li walked toward her, he collapsed on the ground in emotion. Lifted up by his younger brother and sister, he finally hugged his mother.

Li choked up when speaking about his father, who has passed away. Now the father of two teenage children, Li said he will take his family to visit his father’s grave with all his aunts and uncles during Lunar New Year celebrations next month.

“It’s going to be a real big reunion,” he said. “I want to tell him that his son is back.”