Police say missing son of migrant worker whose story captivated China is dead

·2 min read

BEIJING (Reuters) - The saga of a migrant worker's search for his son that has captivated Chinese social media users took a turn on Friday when police said they had confirmed his son's death over a year ago, a finding his parents refused to accept.

The story of the 44-year-old migrant worker, who authorities have identified only by his surname Yue, went viral on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo on Thursday after he caught COVID-19, prompting details of his movements to be published online that revealed a gruelling working schedule.

He drew widespread public sympathy after state media reported he was in Beijing and undertaking odd jobs to look for his son, who had been missing since 2020. The case spurred online discussions about inequality in China, an issue that last year led President Xi Jinping to call for achieving "common prosperity".

Chinese police, however, said in a statement on Friday that Yue's son was found dead two weeks after his disappearance was reported.

His parents refused to accept this conclusion, even after DNA tests confirmed the identity of the body, which is at a local mortuary and has not yet been cremated, according to the statement issued by police in Weihai, a coastal city in Shandong province where Yue lived before his son disappeared.

The police added that since 2021, Yue and his wife had sought redress from various departments and asked for searches to be conducted.

Reuters was unable to reach Yue but Yue's wife said in an telephone interview that she did not recognise the body Weihai police were referring to because it was highly decomposed. She added that she wanted another round of DNA testing to be done in her own hometown in Henan province.

The China Weekly News magazine reported on Thursday, quoting Yue, that he had gone to a hospital last October to check a body, but that it did not look like his son.

The police statement on the son's death garnered over 120 million views on Weibo with the platform's users expressing sadness or disbelief in the police's account.

Some called for the case to be reopened and others such as one user called Aguardar said there had been hope that COVID-19 would have, in a roundabout way, helped Yue find his son.

"But life is never like a children's story," Aguardar said.

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Mark Heinrich)