It has been dubbed as “the saddest film you will ever see”.
Dearest, the surprise hit of the October holidays, tells the story of Tian Peng, a little boy from Shenzhen who is abducted by a man whose wife has failed to conceive.
When Tian’s parents finally track him down to a village in Anhui province, the man has died and the boy and another little girl are being raised by his widow (played by Vicki Zhao), who believes the children were born to her husband and another woman.
The movie is based on the case of Peng Wenle, who was snatched in 2008. Its director Peter Chan told the Wall Street Journal that he wanted to make the film because “there are no bad people in the movie, only bad situations”.
“The only bad guy, the husband, is dead, leaving a trail of tragedy for all those around him,” he said.
According to police statistics at least 15,000 children are abducted in China every year, though activists say the number is actually much higher. As the film suggests, very few are found. It doesn’t help that the Chinese police generally refuse to register a child as missing until 24 hours have passed – indeed the country is a long way from having an American-style public alert system about child disappearances.
The task of looking for missing children often falls to their families or members of their local community. And many parents complain that the local police even try to put a stop to their search after a while, as they feel it reflects badly on them that they have not found the child.
“A policeman told me, ‘You lose face for the country,’” a man who lost his son six years ago told USA Today last year.
Perhaps because of similar sensitivities, there is speculation that several scenes in Dearest were cut. In real life, Peng’s father was arrested for trying to lodge a petition in Beijing and was prevented from talking to journalists. But the director is pleased that the film made it past the censors at all, given that it also deals with issues such as the one-child policy and the societal preference for sons. The way Chan sees it, girls are more likely to be abandoned, while boys are more likely to be abducted. There is some truth to that – people are more likely to want buy a son than a daughter – but children of both genders are still being kidnapped to work as beggars, labourers or sex slaves (see WiC174 and the case of Tang Hui).
Perhaps part of the reason the authorities have allowed Dearest to be screened is because they might be getting a tighter grip on the problem. For instance, in January an obstetrician from the northwestern province of Shaanxi was handed a death sentence for selling seven newborn babies to dealers. His scam had been to tell parents their children had been born with severe congenital health problems.
And in March, the police announced they had saved 382 infants and arrested 1,094 adults when they broke up four major baby-trafficking groups. One of these traffickers, who set up a fake adoption agency, admitted that he had bought babies from impoverished families in western China for about Rmb2,000 each and then sold them on for three times the price.
Payments were made online via a fake jewellery store on Taobao.
The authorities promised to prosecute all those involved, including the parents who had sold their children.
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