An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

Zhang Long
The 2014 movie "Dearest" was about the long years of a father trying to find his missing son. The real life story it was based on has just ended happily.
Zhang Long
Edited by Sun Chao.

The movie "Dearest" first screened in 2014 – an emotional story that centered around a divorced couple living in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen and the disappearance of their son.

But the real event the movie was based on is even more heart-wrenching, and came to a tearful but happy end on Monday when Sun Haiyang, the father, was finally reunited with his son, Sun Zhuo, after 14 years.

Police in Guangdong, Shandong, and Hubei provinces collaborated for years on the abductions of several children.

They announced recently they have nabbed nine suspects over Sun Zhuo's kidnapping and the abduction of two other boys surnamed Fu and Yang, who have been missing for over a decade.

An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

Sun Haiyang and his wife in tears as they hold their son.

Sun Zhuo was born in 2003. At the age of 4, he was lured by a stranger in the street with a toy car and was taken away. His father never stopped looking for him.

Another two parents surnamed Yang and Sun, whose sons were abducted at the ages of 3 and 4 respectively, also inspired two roles in "Dearest."

Yang's son went missing close to his home in 2004. Sun's son went missing in his kindergarten in 2007. In December of 2007, a parent surnamed Fu also reported his son went missing close to their home.

An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

A scene from the movie "Dearest" in which two fathers whose sons were kidnapped comfort each other.

Police in Shenzhen formed a team focusing on finding the missing children.

The cases moved slowly due to the limitations of technology and resources.

Still, the police carried out numerous investigations and followed every lead as the years went by.

Police launched the "Reunite" campaign this year as the Ministry of Public Security pledged to solve the cases as a priority, with the help of new technologies and big data.

Between September and November, the police team found two young men from Shandong Province and one man from Hubei Province who fitted the description of the missing children.

With the help from local police, they dug out that the boy surnamed Fu was sent to a relative of the abductor to raise.

The second Sun was sent to a couple named Guo in Liaocheng, in Shandong Province.

And the boy Yang was given to a man surnamed Tian in Hubei Province. The abductors and those who have taken the children are all in police custody. The investigation is still ongoing.

After "Dearest" aired in 2014, Sun Haiyang's experience of losing and trying to find his son touched millions across China.

Sun and his wife live in Shenzhen and they run a steamed-bun shop.

Since their son went missing, they would gather and sift through evidence sent by volunteers to them.

If the information is related to other missing children, Sun would send it to other group chats of parents of missing kids.

An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

Sun Haiyang's steamed-bun shop is full of posters of missing children.

"I thought my efforts could eventually be in vain, but I had to hold onto every lead, just in case it might help me to find my son," Sun said in an interview.

After his son's abduction, Sun moved away from his old neighborhood, unable to face his old neighbors and friends.

But he stayed in Shenzhen – afraid that if his son ever returned he would not find his home.

After the abduction, Sun and his wife offered a reward for anyone who could provide a useful lead.

They increased the money from the original 100,000 yuan (US$15,680) to 200,000 yuan, which caused quite a sensation in Shenzhen back then.

Hundreds of calls would come in each day and a lot of them were just scammers.

Sun didn't care – at least people are paying attention to his missing son.

In the process of finding his son, Sun met a couple of other unfortunate parents whose children also went missing.

As he frequented alliances and websites where those parents would gather, Sun never let go of the hope of finding his son.

Because of the movie, Sun received an avalanche of messages and contacts from people who were willing to help him and provided him with leads that might find his son or other missing children.

In just one year, a list of 3,000 missing children was compiled.

It's a sad fact that most of the children on the list are still missing.

An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

Sun's son before he went missing.

In March 2008, he got a call from one of the website's volunteers saying he found one child fitting the description of the missing children in a welfare center in Nanyang, Henan Province.

Sun contacted the parents of the child and had them check a photo taken by the volunteer.

When Sun traveled with the parents to Nanyang and they confirmed it was really their missing child, the parents cried on the spot.

The incident happened 10 years ago and Sun is still in touch with the parents, which made him believe in himself even more that he could find his own son.

Some people online asked that since it has been so many years, shouldn't the parents of missing children go back to their normal lives?

Sun rejected the idea and thought it impossible as a parent; it felt like a wound that would never heal.

"Those stopped looking was not because they gave up, but their physical condition just wouldn't allow it anymore," he told one interviewer.

"Many parents have had physical problems just because of years of non-stop looking, and so has my wife."

Sun and his wife had another boy who is 8 now. Whenever the family gathers for festivals, Sun would wonder how Sun Zhuo is doing.

They never told their younger child that he had an elder brother.

"I have been looking for my son for over a decade and I don't hold a grudge anymore," Sun said.

"I know child abduction is not just one man's crime, it involves the buyer and the market.

"After so many years, I understand my son could have a totally different life from ours.

"It's not a must that they should return him, but as a parent, I wished to know where my child is.

"My heart can only be settled if I see him doing well with my own eyes," Sun said.

Not long ago the Shenzhen police asked Sun to give them a picture of his son to put into their facial recognition system.

When Sun learned that the police had helped a couple of families to reunite just because of the system, he knew it would not be long until the day he met his son again.

An emotional tale of a father who reunites with his son missing for 14 years

Netizens congratulate Sun and share his happiness.

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