A 4-year-old boy was abducted in 1989. Memory maps helped him reunite with his family.

Since he was a child, Li Jingwei did not know his real name. He did not know where he was born, or how old he was – until he found out his biological family last month with the help of a long-remembered map.


Lee was a victim of child trafficking. In 1989, when he was 4 years old, a bald neighbor tricked him into seeing cars that were rare in rural China.

Lee said it was the last time he saw his house. The neighbor took him to a road behind a hill where three bicycles and four other kidnappers were waiting. He shouted, but they got him on a motorcycle and left.


Childhood map of China
Li Jingwei has a map drawn from the memory of his childhood village as he poses for a photograph on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 in Lincoln, Hainan Province, Central China.

/ AP


“I wanted to go home but they wouldn’t let me,” Lee told the Associated Press. “Two hours later, I knew I wasn’t going home, and I must have met the bad guys.”

He remembers being taken by train. It was eventually sold to a family in another province, Hainan.


“Since I was very young, only 4, and I hadn’t gone to school yet, I didn’t remember anything, including the names of her parents and hometown,” she said.

However, engraved in his memory, a view of his village in the southwestern city of Xiaotong, Yunnan Province. He remembered the mountains, the bamboo forest, the pond near his house – all the places where he played.

Childhood map of China
A map drawn by Li Jingwei from the memory of his childhood village is shown on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 in Lincoln, Hainan Province, Central China.

/ AP


After his abduction, Lee said he drew maps of his village every day until he was 13 so he could not forget. Before he reached school age, he would pull them to the ground, and after entering school, he would pull them into a notebook. “It simply came to our notice then.


More than 30 years after his abduction, a complex picture of his village’s landscape helped police locate him and his biological mother and siblings.

He was excited to find his biological family when other reunions made headlines. In July, there was a Chinese father, Guo Gangtang Reunited with his son After 24 years of searching, and in December, Sun Hyung met his abducted son 14 years later.

In 2020, parents were looking for their son who was a small child Reunite with him After 32 years. And in 2018, another family Reunited with his long lost daughter After 24 years of searching.


Reports of child abductions are frequent in China, although it is not clear how often they occur. The problem is exacerbated by restrictions that until 2015, most urban couples were allowed only one child.

Lee decided to talk to his adoptive parents for clues and consult the DNA database, but nothing happened. He then found volunteers who suggested that he post a video of himself on the social media platform Dwayne, along with a map he drew from memory.

He said that it took him only 10 minutes to recreate what he had drawn hundreds, maybe thousands of times in his childhood.

This post got tens of thousands of views. By then, Lee said, police had already reduced the locations based on his DNA sample, and his hand-drawn maps helped villagers identify a family.

Lee finally contacted his mother by telephone. He asked about the mark on his chin which he said was due to falling down the stairs.

“When he mentioned the stain, I knew it was him,” Lee said.

Childhood map of China
Li Jingwei, with back-to-camera, reunited with his mother on January 1, 2022, in Lincoln, Hainan Province, Central China. Kidnapped by child traffickers when he was 4 years old, Lee manages to find his mother after decades of searching. Scenes from his village helped police locate his family.

Paper via AP


Other details and memories fell into place, and DNA tests confirmed his legacy. In an emotional reunion on New Year’s Day, he saw his mother for the first time when he was 4 years old.

As Lee approached him, he fell to the ground in emotion. Picked up by his younger brother and sister, he finally hugged his mother.

Lee sighed as he talked about his father. Now a father of two, Lee said he would take his family with all his aunts and uncles to visit his father’s grave during the Lunar New Year celebrations next month.

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

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