A six-year-old boy was reportedly reunited with his father this week after a student living on the other side of the country matched the child’s face to a picture he’d seen online.
The boy’s father, Peng Gaofeng, told the state-run China Daily that the child went missing from the city of Shenzhen on March 25, 2008. Desperate to find him, Peng started posting pictures online, beseeching strangers for help. A student in the city of Pizhou, in coastal Jiangsu province, saw the pictures and called. Peng rushed east for a reunion.
(More on TIME.com: See TIME’s story on kidnapping in China)
“He’s my boy. It couldn’t be wrong. He still recognizes me and knows how to speak our hometown dialect,” he told the paper as he waited for the results of DNA tests. “It’s a miracle, a miracle that could not be true without the help of netizens,” he said.
Indeed, the case is being touted as an early success for a fledgling digital movement spearheaded by Yu Jianrong , a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Yu has encouraged people to post pictures of missing children on China’s most popular microblogs, hoping to crack cases and draw attention to the plight of parents with missing kids. As TIME’s Austin Ramzy reported last fall, China has thousands of new kidnapping cases a year, few of which are solved.
Whether or not this case checks out (and NewsFeed certainly hopes it does), it will be interesting to watch Yu’s project develop. As David Bandurski of the China Media Project notes, the future of Yu’s initiative may depend on whether Beijing is on board. The government is wary of any type of independent social movement and may well see this as a threat.
And, though heartwarming reunions like this make great stories for state media, there are bound to be thousands of failures for each remarkable success.
(More on TIME.com: See pictures of China’s “Great Spring Migration”)