Facial Recognition Software Helps Man Kidnapped as Toddler Reunite With Mom After 32 Years Apart

Li Jingzhe (left) and her biological son Mao Yin (right) had a tearful reunion Monday.
Li Jingzhe (left) and her biological son Mao Yin (right) had a tearful reunion Monday.(Getty)

Chinese authorities used facial recognition software on photos in their national database to find Mao Yin.

It’s all thanks to facial recognition technology that a man was reunited with his biological parents, 32 years after he was kidnapped as a toddler. “I won’t let him leave me anymore,” mother Li Jingzhi said through tears as she and her son Mao Yin looked through photo albums at their Monday reunion.

Mao, who is now 34-years-old, was just two years old when he was taken from his family outside of a hotel in Xi’an, a large city in central China. Authorities believe he was brought to neighboring province Sichuan and sold to a childless couple for ¥6,000, or about $845 USD, Chinese state-owned network CCTV reported.  

Li quit her job soon after and spent the following years dedicating her life to searching for her son. When Li eventually gave up looking for her own son, she put her efforts into helping other families reunite with their missing children. She was eventually responsible for helping 29 abducted children find their way home, state-owned publication Xinhua reported.

In April, Xi’an police learned of the man who had adopted Mao in the late 1980s. Authorities were able to make a simulated image of what Mao would look like as an adult using a photo of him as a boy, and then applied facial recognition technology on photos in the national database to find citizens that were a close match to the generated image.

They eventually tracked the image back to a man who lived in Mianyang, a city just outside of Chengdu in Sichuan, and administered a DNA test to determine he was the missing toddler.

On Monday, Mao ran into the arms of his sobbing mom in a reunion organized by the Xi’an police. Mao said he’s seen television segments in which Li has talked about her missing son, but had no idea that her long lost child was him, CCTV reported.

Mao said he would spend some time with his biological parents in Xi’an before returning home. “To be honest, I’m not sure about the future yet,” Mao said told press during the reunion, but added that he was interested in moving to Xi’an to be closer with his biological parents.

While it is unclear just how many children go missing every year in China, the website "Baby Come Home," for which Li volunteers, allows Chinese parents to make postings about their missing kids and has more than 51,000 registered families looking for their kids, according to CNN.

The Ministry of Public Security in China said that since 2019, more than 6,300 missing kids have been reunited with their family thanks to DNA testing, Xinhua reported.