In China, Dad Uses Social Media To Track Down Missing Boy For three years, the father crisscrossed China searching for the son who had been abducted at age 3. Then he turned to the Internet and, with help from China's version of Twitter and a microblogging journalist, finally brought the boy home.
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In China, Dad Uses Social Media To Find Missing Boy

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In China, Dad Uses Social Media To Find Missing Boy

In China, Dad Uses Social Media To Find Missing Boy

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But we do know that the Internet played a role in generating Egypt's protests, and we have another story this morning on the power of the Internet, the story of a rescue, thanks to the Chinese version of Twitter. Child abductions are a rampant problem in China, a problem the government has tried to hide. But today, a young boy is returning home with his father years after he was kidnapped.

NPR's Louisa Lim is the first Western journalist to interview the boy and his father in the town of Pizhou.

LOUISA LIM: For three years, Peng Gaofeng crisscrossed China, searching for his son. At the age of three, little Xinle had been abducted while playing outside their home in Shenzhen. Peng was desperate and angry. He even protested with others outside Beijing's Olympic stadium. The message: If China can manage to host the Olympics, why can't my child be found?

Then he discovered the Internet. He blogged and he flooded Weibo - the Chinese equivalent of Twitter - with his son's photo. Journalist Deng Fei, who has 100,000 followers on a Chinese microblog, helped.

Mr. DENG FEI (Journalist): (Through translator) At big festivals, I kept tweeting his picture, since my followers would be going back to their hometowns to celebrate. And I believed the kid had been sold to someone in the countryside. The child is distinctive. His face is big, his teeth are pointed, and his eyebrows are very far apart. If you saw him, you'd remember him.

LIM: At the start of Chinese New Year last week, someone recognized the boy in Pizhou. Peng contacted the police, and they traveled to the town. Deng Fei filmed, then live tweeted what happened next. First, their anxious wait outside the police station shivering with nerves. Then a car arrives. A small, confused boy is bundled out. Someone shouts the boy's name.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. PENG GAOFENG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: I've seen him. It's our son, Peng weeps moments later on the phone to his wife. He describes the moments he first held his son in his arms.

Mr. PENG: (Through translator) I had no words. I just held him and cried. Three years of pain and pressure just exploded. I couldn't speak. I just held him.

Mr. PENG XINLE: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIM: I missed him, says the six-year-old boy. I recognized him.

As his dad fusses over him in a hotel room, it's clear little Peng Xinle has big adjustments ahead. Until just two days ago, he'd forgotten his own name. For the past three years, he's been called another name: Han Longfei. He'd been living with the man who abducted him, who treated him as a son. The man has since died from cancer, but his wife is still alive. Peng says he will not pursue charges.

Mr. PENG: (Through translator) I'm just happy to have my son back. I'll leave it to the police.

LIM: Peng has no doubt as to why his son was found.

Mr. PENG: (Through translator) This is because of the power of the Internet. If there was no Internet, I would never have found my son.

LIM: This comes just two weeks after a microblog account targeting China's child beggars was set up by Beijing professor and activist Yu Jianrong. It's an Internet sensation, the awakening of China's digital conscience, some say, with a quarter of a million followers.

Netizens post pictures of child beggars, including the time and place where they were taken. So far, six abducted children have been identified by their parents. Journalist Deng Fei says the influence of microblogs is immense.

Mr. FEI: (Through translator) Before, we didn't have any means of reporting news. That was the job of the official media. Now we have a way: microblogs. They're our own individual media.

LIM: Critics say the campaign against beggars is irresponsible, fearing traffickers might retaliate against children whose pictures are online. Deng Fei says microblogs are forcing government departments to be more open.

Mr. FEI: (Through translator) I don't think the central government fears microblogs. I can see police at every level and many government departments are starting microblogs. Our high-level officials are taking a very transparent approach to this.

LIM: Even the staid People's Daily announced the era of the microblog is here. But old habits die hard. Local journalists are nervous the authorities will crack down to prevent reporting on the once-taboo subject of child abduction. But given the level of public interest, given the growing importance of the Internet, maybe that no longer matters.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Pizhou Town,�Jiangsu Province, China.

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