The Searchers

Time Magazine tells the story of Zhou Chengliang, a 27-year-old man who was kidnapped when he was six and raised by another family, and is now looking for clues to his past:

The late 1980s were an unsettling period for China. The economic reforms that had begun a decade earlier had opened up huge opportunities — and not just for law-abiding citizens. Corruption also began to rise, and organized crime, beaten back by relentless social controls during the Maoist era, grew once again. Because of new freedom of movement, gangs found it easier to take from one place and sell them in another. The authorities are slowly coming to terms with the extent of the problem; last year they launched their biggest crackdown ever, with more than 15,000 people arrested over 17 months. In September, a court in Quanzhou city in southeastern Fujian province sentenced to death the two ringleaders of a gang that had sold 46 for up to $6,000 each. (Read “China’s Soul Searching As School Killings Continue.”)

Tackling the aftermath, however, can be even harder than cracking the trafficking gangs. In the Quanzhou case, many of the stolen children were left with the people who bought them even as the authorities tried to track down their real families, according to a report in the state-run Legal Daily. Despite a new official effort to reunite families with their lost children, volunteers shoulder much of the work. And while the public is increasingly aware of the extent of the , the implications of having tens of thousands of children wrenched from their families are only now emerging as those who went missing in the 1980s reach adulthood. Some were kidnapped at such a young age that they will never have any recollection of their birth family.

Zhou was repeatedly told by his new family, a large farming clan in Fujian, that his life would have been much worse had he never been sold to them. During his first several years in his new home, that seemed hardly the case. While the family was relatively prosperous by local standards, Zhou says he was given less food than the others, and he had to do more work around the farm to earn his keep. He constantly fought with his new parents, and would escape several times a year in hopes of returning home. But he had no idea where home was.



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