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News in pictures
News in pictures
A selection of the week’s best photos from across the continent and beyond:
Pictures from AFP, EPA and Reuters.
Actress Naya Rivera, who died during a boat trip with her young son on a lake in California, was one of the stars of the hit teen TV series Glee.
Rivera, 33, began her career as a four-year-old in the Royal Family sitcom on CBS.
But she became best-known for playing Glee’s cold-hearted Santana Lopez in all six seasons of the musical comedy, which ran from 2009 to 2015 on the Fox network.
Rivera (third right) appeared alongside co-stars including (left-right) Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Heather Morris and Dianna Agron.
The show soon gained a huge fanbase. Viewers followed the lives of the members of McKinley High School’s glee club and their memorable musical performances.
Rivera’s character dated and later married her best friend Brittany, played by Morris. She joined fellow Glee actors Kevin McHale, Morris and Josh Sussman at 2010’s Emmy Awards nominees’ party (pictured).
Rivera, third right, joined her co-stars at the Golden Globes in 2011, where Glee won best comedy or musical TV series for the second year in a row. The show won a number of other Globes and Emmy Awards, and featured guest spots by Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow and Neil Patrick Harris.
Rivera and Riley performed Glee’s 300th musical performance in 2011.
Glee made global celebrities of its cast. Rivera is pictured at the 2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards, where they were nominated for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series.
The same year, she won two trophies at the Alma (American Latino Media Arts) Awards – for favourite female music artist and favourite TV comedy actress.
In 2014, Rivera starred in the horror film At the Devil’s Door and married fellow actor Ryan Dorsey, the father of their son Josey. The couple divorced in 2018.
In 2016, Rivera published a book titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, which urged young women to pursue their dreams and to refuse to let mistakes define them.
Rivera and Josey Hollis Dorsey were pictured at the 2019 premiere of The Lego Movie 2.
Alan Parker, who has died at the age of 76, was one of Britain’s most revered directors.
His filmography spanned genres from thrillers and comedies to musicals and wartime dramas.
Here are some of the more memorable moments from his six-decade career.
A former advertising copywriter, Parker’s breakthrough came with the 1974 BBC TV drama The Evacuees, which told the story of two Jewish boys evacuated to wartime Liverpool.
Written by Jack Rosenthal, the play won an International Emmy and a Bafta for direction.
Parker wrote and directed his first feature film, Bugsy Malone, in 1975. A musical spoof of gangster movies, it starred a cast made entirely of children who fired “splurge guns” containing whipped cream instead of bullets.
The film, which starred Jodie Foster, Scott Baio and Dexter Fletcher, survives as a stage play – despite Parker claiming it was “a film about America based only on what [he] knew about American movies”.
The director’s next film couldn’t have been any more different. Midnight Express was a thriller about an American tourist arrested for drug possession in Turkey.
The six-week shoot in Malta was “unrelentingly hot” but Parker recalled it being an enjoyable experience – even though John Hurt, playing the role of a heroin addict, decided to develop a “filthy” body odour to get into character.
“His decision to not bathe for six weeks made him less than popular to have a drink with at the Hilton bar,” Parker later recalled.
The musical Fame (1980) was a celebration of youth and the arts in New York, which won two Academy Awards and spawned a popular television series.
One of the film’s most tricky scenes saw the students of New York’s School of Performing Arts flood into the street for an impromptu song and dance number, set to the title song by Irene Cara.
However, at the time of the three-day shoot, the song hadn’t been written – so the cast are actually dancing to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff.
“Shoot the Moon was the most personal film I ever made and a cathartic experience for me,” said Parker of his next movie.
Starring Diane Keaton and Albert Finney, it followed the fate of a young couple, whose failing marriage, separation and love affairs devastate their four children.
However, the film was a box office flop, and failed to make back its $12m production budget.
Pink Floyd: The Wall was inspired by the prog-rock band’s album of the same name. Released in 1982, it was an impressionistic, nightmarish collage of images and music, with animation by Gerald Scarfe.
It starred Bob Geldof as a rock star who, driven into insanity by the death of his father, constructs a physical and emotional wall to protect himself.
“This isn’t the most fun to listen to and some viewers don’t find it to much fun to watch,” noted film critic Roger Ebert, “but the 1982 film is without question the best of all serious fiction films devoted to rock.”
1984’s Birdy told the story of a strange, trusting friendship between two Vietnam veterans – Birdy (Matthew Modine), an introverted teenager who returns from the war mentally shattered and convinced he is a bird, and his protective friend Al (Nicolas Cage).
Parker originally turned down the opportunity to adapt William Wharton’s 1978 novel, saying it was impossible to film, but after relenting he went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
Mickey Rourke oozed charisma in Angel Heart, a detective story that slowly transitioned into straight-up horror, as private detective Harry Angel uncovered a series of grisly and unsettling murders.
The film’s release was mired in controversy in the US, where censors gave it an X rating, normally reserved for pornographic films.
After losing an appeal, Parker cut 10 seconds from a sex scene between Rourke and Cosby Show actress Lisa Bonet, and the film was reclassified with an R rating.
“I figured that a few celluloid feet of Mickey’s ass was no great loss to the history cinema,” he observed.
Starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, Mississippi Burning was a drama about the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964.
The hard-hitting thriller was nominated for seven Academy Awards including best director for Parker – but won only one, for cinematography.
Parker later wrote of that the story, which was based on true events, “cannot be the definitive film of the black civil rights struggle”.
“Our heroes were still white and, in truth, the film would probably have never been made if they weren’t. This is, perhaps, as much a sad reflection on present-day society as it is on the film industry.”
The Commitments, made in 1990, was a rambunctious adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel about a young, Irish working-class soul band, and their ultimate self-destruction.
Featuring covers of soul classics like Mustang Sally, Try A Little Tenderness and In The Midnight Hour, the soundtrack spent 173 weeks in the UK charts.
Starring Madonna, the movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical Evita was Parker’s biggest box office hit, grossing more than $141m worldwide.
Parker said Madonna had lobbied hard to win the title role, recalling that “as far as she was concerned, no one could play Evita as well as she could, and she said that she would sing, dance and act her heart out… and that’s exactly what she did”.
Parker returned to Ireland for 1999’s Angela’s Ashes, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir by Frank McCourt.
Starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, it told the story of a five-year-old boy in poverty-stricken 1930s Limerick, who struggles to survive alongside his formidable mother and alcoholic father.
It was the director’s penultimate film, followed by 2003’s The Life of David Gale, which starred Kate Winslet and Laura Linney.
For many people in the UK right now, the prospect of a trip to Australia or South East Asia may be out of reach, however essential that trip may be for your soul…
Handily, aerial photographer Brad Walls, aka Bradscanvas, has been to both of those parts of the world, and documented his travels in a new collection, called Pools From Above.
Walls, who is a featured artist in this year’s inaugural Aerial Photography Awards, describes the series as “an ode to the beauty found in the shapes, colours and textures of swimming pools from around the world”.
“I fell in love with the lines, curves and negative space of the pools, which – without alternate perspective from a drone – would have been lost,” he said.
His work was inspired by Annie Kelly’s popular book Splash: The Art of the Swimming Pool, and you can check out some of the spectacular images below.
Iraqis have been struggling to keep cool as a heatwave continues across much of the Middle East.
The temperature in the capital Baghdad reportedly approached 52C on Tuesday, one of the highest the city has ever seen.
The heat is said to have remained above 51C on Wednesday.
Many people stayed indoors, with some in central Baghdad seeking respite under an improvised shower.
But the extreme heat has put even greater pressure on the country’s already strained public resources.
Electricity cuts have left many people in Baghdad reliant on generators to keep fans and air conditioners running.
The situation has led to widespread anger, with renewed protests taking place earlier this week.
At least two demonstrators died on Monday, with the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reporting that more than 20 people were killed by security forces.
The country has also been affected by a drop in oil prices since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The pandemic has resulted in more than 118,000 cases and 4,603 deaths in Iraq, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
All photos subject to copyright.
A collection of photos showing life in a rural village from the 1950s to the 1980s has sparked a “huge rush” of memories after being shared by the photographer’s son.
The pictures were taken in and around Frampton-on-Severn in Gloucestershire by professional photographer Les Leach.
Scans of the negatives were shared on social media and got a warm response.
People from as far afield as New Zealand have identified themselves and family members in the shots.
Many of the photographs are of weddings that took place at Frampton village church, parties and other celebrations.
Dudley Holyoake said there was a “huge rush” of memories when he saw a photo of himself as best man at a wedding in 1979.
“This time capsule of memories exploded into my mind. My youth has come back,” he said.
Sarah Perkins, who now lives in New Zealand, said seeing the pictures was “awesome” and brought back happy memories of her childhood.
She spotted a photo of herself with her father at a wedding.
“I thought ‘oh wow, he looks amazing, so young and so handsome’,” she said.
Mr Leach, 84, worked as a BBC Points West cameraman and also took still photographs.
Some shots in the collection are of major news events from the time, such as a petrol tanker fire on the A38 in 1969.
His son, Mark Leach, rediscovered them in a shed and scanned them before sharing them on a Facebook group.
“It’s social history. I just had the urge to go through them and scan them in, because I know one day they’ll slowly disintegrate, slowly disappear and nobody will know who the people are,” he said.
“It’s nice to say to dad ‘who is this little girl here?’. Then I can put a name to it.”
He said he was not expecting the response the Facebook group – called Memory Lane, Frampton, Saul and Arlingham – received.
“People have been commenting and saying that’s X, that’s Y.
“These are old names from 60 years ago, people who have passed away.
“Now their great grandchildren are looking at them and saying ‘there’s my great gran or my great uncle’.”
About 2,500 images have been scanned so far and over 3,500 are yet to be digitised.
Les Leach said the pictures were an “important record” of the past and it was “nice to look at them again”.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have launched legal action in the US after drones were allegedly used to take pictures of their infant son Archie.
A complaint filed in Los Angeles, California, on Thursday claims an unnamed individual photographed 14-month-old Archie at the Sussexes’ home during the coronavirus lockdown.
The royal couple have claimed the pictures were an invasion of privacy.
The lawsuit highlights privacy laws in California.
Prince Harry and Meghan are now based in Los Angeles, having stepped back as senior royals at the end of March.
The couple’s lawyer, Michael Kump, said: “Every individual and family member in California is guaranteed by law the right to privacy in their home. No drones, helicopters or telephoto lenses can take away that right.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are filing this lawsuit to protect their young son’s right to privacy in their home without intrusion by photographers, and to uncover and stop those who seek to profit from these illegal actions.”
According to the lawsuit, the duke and duchess are constantly followed by paparazzi, who have tracked them down to their home in Los Angeles, flying helicopters overhead and cutting holes in their security fences.
It marks the latest example of the Sussexes actions against what they have previously described as “invasive” tabloid media.
In a separate legal action, against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, Meghan is suing for breach of privacy and copyright infringement.
Earlier this month, court documents claimed the duchess felt “unprotected by the Institution” of the monarchy and was “prohibited from defending herself” against media reports while pregnant.
The publisher denies her claims.
High-cost lenders are using pictures of holidays and “nudge” tactics to encourage vulnerable people to take on more debt, the finance watchdog says.
The Financial Conduct Authority found borrowers were getting into financial trouble after taking on extra credit.
Lenders are accused of poor practice by using online accounts and apps to encourage consumers to borrow more.
“Repeat borrowing could be a strong indicator of levels of debt that are harmful to the customer,” the FCA said.
It reported firms using images of exotic locations to suggest consumers take on extra borrowing to have a holiday.
Some use “nudge” techniques such as appealing to social norms by suggesting that relending is common practice and normal behaviour.
Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, said: “As a large chunk of the population has been forced into debt by the current Covid-19 crisis, the regulator is clearly worried about debt companies using misleading marketing and pushy tactics to keep customers in high-cost debt.”
Debt adviser Sara Williams, who writes the Debt Camel blog, said it was good that the FCA had recognised the harm caused by repeat lending.
“If you have had to take a high-cost loan, you are often left short of money and are then vulnerable to marketing offering you another loan as being ‘easy’ and ‘convenient’, but this traps people in expensive debt for much longer,” she said.
High-cost credit customers are more likely to be vulnerable, have low financial resilience and poor credit histories, the watchdog said in its review.
They often have several debts forcing them to juggle repayments, sometimes having to prioritise which debts to pay when they do not have enough money for all.
But lenders target vulnerable borrowers with marketing messages which emphasise the ease, convenience and benefits of taking more credit.
The FCA said it was concerned that lenders were not balancing their marketing messages with warnings about the risks of people taking on more debt than they could afford.
“Before the pandemic we saw increasing numbers of complaints about high-cost lenders’ relending practices, which showed that firms had failed to adequately assess affordability, and they were not relending in a way that was sustainable for customers,” said Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision, retail and authorisations at the FCA.
The watchdog said lenders should assess whether further borrowing is in the customer’s best interests.
“Rigorous affordability assessments are key to avoiding harm in this area, and firms should ensure they are making proportionate and responsible assessments of the sustainability of borrowing,” it said.
Looking ahead, the FCA said it had been forced to act to help consumers who were under additional financial pressure due to the impact of coronavirus.
It has encouraged firms to offer payment deferrals to help struggling borrowers.
“We are closely engaged with firms to understand the impacts of the pandemic on consumers,” said Mr Davidson.
“Where consumers are experiencing payment difficulties, we encourage them to contact their credit provider as soon as possible and explain their situation and get the help that lenders have agreed to provide.”
Laura Suter warned that during the pandemic more people had been using payday loans or doorstep lending either to pay their normal bills or to pay off other debt.
“That becomes a very slippery slope that’s tough to get out of,” she said. “Any crackdown on these practices would be good news for consumers at a time when many find themselves in spiralling debt.
“This is particularly the case as the Covid-19 measures introduced by the regulator to ease the burden of debt, such as payment holidays or reductions in interest rates, start to be unwound and people face hefty bills for their borrowing.”
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He was billed as the tallest man on earth by The Greatest Showman’s famous circus, was said to be a bodyguard to Queen Victoria and has links to the Absolutely Fabulous TV show theme tune.
“Captain” George Auger was reputedly 8ft 4in (2.5m) tall and apparently got his title from Queen Victoria who was said to have given him the nickname after he “protected” her.
His career in showbiz seemingly began by accident when he was offered a job by the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus – the focus of the hit Hugh Jackman movie blockbuster of 2017.
The story goes that Auger was approached by circus bosses after he turned up to watch one of their touring shows – and was actually taller than their ‘tallest man act’.
After moving to the United States and becoming a mainstay in Barnum and Bailey’s “freak show style” circus, Auger was on the verge of breaking into the movies when tragedy struck.
The day before he was due to move to California for a $350-a-week role alongside Hollywood great Harold Lloyd in a film, he died suddenly aged 40.
Such was his popularity in the US, hundreds watched as his body was lowered on a crane in a specially made coffin from the second-floor window of his New York apartment because he couldn’t fit down the stairs – as his faithful bulldog Ringling looked on whining.
And there followed a nationwide publicity campaign to find a replacement for his part in a film that went on to wow critics.
This is not a tall story, rather a story about a tall man – sometimes called the British Goliath, but mostly the ‘Cardiff giant’ – one of Wales’ unknown heroes.
“From the slums of Cardiff to the verge of Hollywood, via Queen Victoria and being a freak show star of the world’s most famous circus,” said great nephew Bob Osbourne.
“Then dying the day before you embark on your film career – it merits a film of its own.”
George Auger was born between Christmas and New Year to mum Elizabeth and former Army Corporal and policeman father Henry in Cardiff in 1881 – not named George, but William Henry Auger.
“His parents were normal size but George was a freak of nature and had gigantism,” added Bob, who has researched his family and great uncle George’s “surreal” story.
After moving to London as a toddler, Auger lied about his age to get into the Royal Marine Light Infantry aged just 12. He probably got away with it because he was already 5ft 8in (1.72m) tall. He lasted less than a year before deserting.
He lied about his age again a few years later to join Great Western Railways in Paddington – claiming he was 19 when just 15 – when he joined up as a policeman.
It was here that his ‘captain’ denomination came about – a label he would adopt to his advantage in a few years on the other side of the Atlantic.
He never held an official captain rank but the title is said to have come from Queen Victoria after he was assigned as her police escort while she travelled around London.
“He was picked up by Queen Victoria to be a private bodyguard,” said Bob. “His job was to stand there and look tall and menacing.”
Well, the ‘captain’ tag lasted longer than the job as he was dismissed as a police officer after just a year in 1899.
Auger was only 17 when he began work as a doorman in London’s West End and at the turn of the 20th Century, he had grown to 7ft 4in (2.23m) and was described as the second tallest man in the world.
His career in entertainment tentatively began in a Christmas panto as, you’ve guessed it, a giant in Ealing Theatre’s 1900 edition of Puss in Boots.
Then came his unintentional big break – when he went to a show as a spectator and ended up becoming the headline act.
Articles from the day say Auger went to a Barnum and Bailey Circus performance while they were on tour in London. After noticing he was taller than their tallest man act, the show’s management apparently encouraged him to travel to America to join the company.
“He seemed to not just be in the right place at the right time but he capitalised on those opportunities,” said Bob, an artist whose grandmother Hilda was born 30 years after her very big brother.
“What are the chances of Barnum coming over, seeing someone tower over everyone else, getting him on stage next to their own giant, sacking their own giant and telling him come to New York and we’ll make you a star.
“It shows a lot of bravery for a boy from a peasant family – and one that had probably been pointed at in the streets and the butt of jokes – to actually take the plunge and go to New York.
“This was a major journey in those days and he’d be leaving his old life behind because communication was rare then.”
So, in March 1904 he and new wife Elizabeth board the SS La Bretagne at Le Havre in France bound for New York.
His arrival in America hit the headlines as The New York Times described his uncomfortable transatlantic trip, where he had to draw his knees up under his chin to sleep in his six-foot berth.
The publication confirms he was due to appear in the Barnum and Bailey Circus show that would open at New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden later that month.
‘Captain George Auger, the Cardiff Giant, the tallest man on earth’, screamed the billboards promoting the self-anointed and always modest Greatest Show on Earth.
By this time he was his full 8ft 4in – if you believe what you read from the time. To put that into context, he would have had to duck in most modern living rooms.
“He had dwarfs in his pocket and got up to things which are completely non-PC,” said Bob.
“He could be forgiven for wanting a quiet life because he had a strange gigantic look and people on the street would have pointed fingers at him but he transformed that into a business opportunity.
“He was quite entrepreneurial, he embraced his size and monetised it – the epitome of the American Dream I suppose.” said Bob.
“He became a celebrity in the US, he wasn’t just tall but had star quality that gave him that appeal. People used to pay for him to come around their house and have pictures with their children.
“He milked it and who can blame him? Looking so different and being a bit of a freak, I think he loved being loved.”
The money-making from his extreme size took a new twist by 1907 when Auger had swapped the freak show for his own show – although still playing a giant.
Auger made himself the headline act in Jack the Giant Killer and played ‘the tallest man on earth’ – and just to accentuate his massive frame, he cast the ‘smallest comedian in the world’.
“The fact he authored a play and took it on tour steered him away from just being gawped at in a circus,” said Cardiff historian Ted Richards, who has been involved in new research into Auger’s life story, which has uncovered new details about his Cardiff origins and family.
“He found a niche for himself and he achieved some form of happiness.”
The 26-year-old took his show to Europe in 1908 – docking in Liverpool aboard the RMS Lusitania.
The actor became an American citizen in 1917 and was back in the circus a year later with a new nickname – the ‘Cardiff Colossus’ .
Auger was ready to swap the relentless touring of circus life for the glitz and glamour of the up-and-coming Hollywood scene in 1922 when tragedy struck.
He had been cast in a movie produced by Hal Roach, who crafted the Laurel and Hardy franchise, to star alongside Hollywood royalty Harold Lloyd as the giant Colosso in Why Worry?
But after a thanksgiving day meal at friends he was staying with, Auger died of severe indigestion.
His obituary described him as a good natured, likable 8ft 4in (2.5m) person who lounged through life trying to make the best of what nature had served him.
Auger’s body had to be lowered in a specially made coffin from the second floor window of the Manhattan apartment with an estimated 1,000 people looking on.
Auger’s funeral was attended by many showbiz friends and colleagues from the circus, including Ringling, his loyal and trusty bulldog.
“It a classic tale of someone that looks different, finds happiness but the story ends in sadness,” said Bob.
“A freak born into abject poverty and living in the slums, becomes bodyguard for the Queen, gets spotted by the biggest circus of all time, moves to New York, becomes a celebrity and gets a Hollywood break but dies of indigestion the day before going.
“The story doesn’t need any embellishment, it’s got it all. And he was only 40.”
So we’ll never know how big the Cardiff giant could have been.
“He could’ve gone on to be one of Wales’ greatest entertainment exports,” added Mr Richards, chairman of Roath Local History Society in Cardiff.
“We’ve had some big names that have broken America like Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Tom Jones and Sir Anthony Hopkins – but he would have been the biggest, literally.”
But the Auger connection with the stage didn’t end there – as one of the family did make it to Hollywood as a showbiz star of his own.
Auger’s mother and father split when their first born son was about 12 – and dad Henry is believed to have had 19 children with three different partners.
One of Auger’s younger brothers had a son in 1939 – Brian Auger, who went on to become an accomplished musician in the 1960s, jamming with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and forming a band with Rod Stewart.
With Julie Driscoll, he had a hit in 1968 with the Bob Dylan song This Wheel’s on Fire, which later become one of the most recognisable TV theme tunes of all time on the BBC comedy classic Absolutely Fabulous.
Li Jingzhi spent more than three decades searching for her son, Mao Yin, who was kidnapped in 1988 and sold. She had almost given up hope of ever seeing him again, but in May she finally got the call she had been waiting for.
At weekends Jingzhi and her husband would take their toddler Mao Yin to the zoo, or to one of the many parks in their city, Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province in central China. And one of these outings has always remained especially vivid in her memory.
“He was about one-and-a-half years old at the time. We took him to the Xi’an City zoo. He saw a worm on the ground. He was very curious and pointed to the worm saying ‘Mama, worm!’ And as I carried him out of the zoo, he had the worm in his hand and put it close to my face,” Jingzhi says.
Mao Yin was her only child – China’s one-child policy was in full swing, so there was no question of having more. She wanted him to study hard and be successful, so she nicknamed him Jia Jia, meaning “great”.
“Jia Jia was a very well-behaved, smart, obedient, and sensible child. He didn’t like to cry. He was very lively and adorable. He was the kind of child that everyone liked when they saw him,” Jingzhi says.
She and her husband would drop him off at a kindergarten in the morning and pick him up after work.
“Every day, after leaving work I played with my child,” Jingzhi says. “I was very happy.”
Jingzhi worked for a grain exporting company and at harvest time she would have to leave town for several days to visit suppliers in the countryside. Jia Jia would stay at home with his dad. On one such trip, she received a message from her employers telling her to come back urgently.
“At that time, telecommunications weren’t very advanced,” Jingzhi says. “So all I got was a telegram with six words on it: ‘Emergency at home; return right away.’ I didn’t know what had happened.”
She hurried back to Xi’an, where a manager gave her devastating news.
“Our leader said one sentence: ‘Your son is missing,'” Jingzhi says. “My mind went blank. I thought perhaps he had got lost. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to find him.”
This was October 1988, and Jia Jia was two years and eight months old.
Jingzhi’s husband explained that he had picked up Jia Jia from the kindergarten and stopped on the way home to get him a drink of water from a small hotel owned by the family. He had left the child for just one or two minutes to cool the water, and when he turned round Jia Jia was gone.
Jingzhi assumed he would quickly be found.
“I thought perhaps my son was lost and couldn’t find his way home and that kind-hearted people would find him and bring him back to me,” she says.
But when a week had passed, and no-one had taken him to a police station, she knew the situation was serious.
She began asking if anyone had seen Jia Jia in the neighbourhood of the hotel. She printed 100,000 flyers with his picture on them and handed them out around Xi’an’s railway and bus stations, and placed missing person adverts in local newspapers. All without success.
“My heart hurt… I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream,” says Jingzhi. “I felt as though my heart had been emptied.”
She would cry when she saw her missing son’s clothes, his little shoes and the toys he used to play with.
At the time, Jingzhi was unaware that child-trafficking was a problem in China.
The one-child policy had been introduced in 1979 in an attempt to control the size of China’s rapidly growing population and alleviate poverty. Couples living in cities could have only one child, while those in rural areas could have a second if the first was a girl.
Couples who wanted a son to carry on the family surname and take care of them in old age could no longer keep trying for a boy; they would face stiff fines and their additional children would be denied social benefits.
The policy is believed to have contributed to a rise in the number of child abductions, especially of boys. But Jingzhi knew nothing about this.
“Sometimes on TV, there would be notices about missing children, but I never thought that they had been abducted and sold. I just thought they were lost,” she says.
Her first instinct, on learning about Jia Jia’s disappearance, was to blame her husband. Then she realised that they should work together to find their son. As time went on, though, their obsession meant that they rarely talked about anything else, and after four years they divorced.
But Jingzhi never stopped searching. Every Friday afternoon when she had finished work she would take the train to surrounding provinces to look for Jia Jia, coming home on Sunday evening ready to return to work on Monday morning.
Whenever she had a lead – news about a boy who looked like Jia Jia, perhaps – she would go and investigate.
On one longer-than-usual trip in the same year that Jia Jia vanished, she took a long-distance bus to another town in Shaanxi, and then a bus into the countryside in search of a couple said to have adopted a boy from Xi’an who looked just like Jia Jia. But after waiting until evening for the villagers to return from the fields, she learned that the couple had taken the boy to Xi’an. So she rushed straight back again, arriving in the early hours of the morning.
Then she spent hours looking for the flat the couple was renting, only to find out from the landlord that they had left two days earlier for another town. So she hurried to that town and when she got there, again at night, spent hours going from one hotel to another, trying to track them down. When she finally found the right hotel, the couple had already checked out.
Even then she didn’t give up. Although it was now already the middle of the night again, she travelled to another town to find the husband’s parents, but the couple wasn’t there. She wanted to go straight to the wife’s home town, but by this stage she had gone more than two days without sleeping properly or having a decent meal.
After resting, she set off and found the woman and the child. But to her great disappointment, the boy wasn’t her son.
“I thought for sure this child was Jia Jia. I was very disappointed. It had a huge impact on me. Afterwards, I kept hearing my son’s voice. My mum was worried I would have a mental breakdown,” Jingzhi says.
Her son was the first thing she thought about when she woke up each morning, and at night she dreamed he was crying “Mama, mama!” – as he had before, whenever she left his side.
On the advice of a former classmate who was a doctor, she checked herself into a hospital.
“A doctor said something that had a big impact on me. He told me: ‘I can treat you for your physical illnesses, but as for the illness in your heart, that’s up to you.’ His words made me think all that night. I felt I couldn’t go on like this. If I didn’t try to control my emotions, I might really go crazy. If I became insane, I wouldn’t be able to go out to look for my child and one day if my child came back and saw a crazy mother, it would be so pitiful for him,” Jinghzi says.
From that point onwards she made a conscious effort to avoid getting upset, and to concentrate all her energy on the search.
Meanwhile, Jingzhi’s sister packed away all of Jia Jia’s clothes and toys into a box, as the sight of them was causing Jingzhi so much heartbreak.
Around this time, Jingzhi became aware there were many parents whose children had gone missing, not just in Xi’an but further afield, and she began working with them. They formed a network spanning most provinces in China. They sent big bags of fliers to each other and posted them in the provinces they were responsible for.
The network also generated many more leads, though sadly none brought Jia Jia any closer. Altogether, Jingzhi visited 10 Chinese provinces on her search.
When her son had already been missing for 19 years, Jingzhi began volunteer work with the website, Baby Come Home, which helps reunite families with their missing children.
“I no longer felt lonely. There were so many volunteers helping us find our children – I felt very touched by this,” Jingzhi says. There was another benefit too: “I thought even if my child is not found, I can help other children find their home.”
Then in 2009, the Chinese government set up a DNA database, where couples who have lost a child and children who suspect they may have been abducted can register their DNA. This was a big step forward, and has helped solve thousands of cases.
Most of the missing children Jingzhi hears about are male. The couples who buy them are childless, or have daughters but no sons, and most of them come from the countryside.
Through her work with Baby Come Home and other organisations over the past two decades, Jingzhi has helped connect 29 children with their parents. She says it’s hard to describe the feelings she went through when she witnessed these reunions.
“I would ask myself: ‘Why couldn’t this be my son?’ But when I saw the other parents hugging their child, I felt happy for them. I also felt that if they could have this day, I definitely could have this day too. I felt hopeful. Seeing their child go back to them, I had hope that one day my child would return to me,” Jingzhi says.
There have been times, though, when she has almost lost hope.
“Every time a lead turned out to be nothing, I felt very disappointed,” she says. “But I didn’t want to keep feeling disappointed. If I had kept feeling disappointed, it would’ve been hard for me to keep living. So I maintained hope to continue living.”
Her elderly mother also served as a reminder to keep looking for her son.
“My mum died in 2015 at the age of 94, but before she passed away she still really really missed Jia Jia. Once my mother told me she dreamed that Jia Jia came back. She said: ‘It’s been nearly 30 years, he should return,'” Jingzhi says.
When her mother fell unconscious shortly before her death, Jingzhi guessed she was thinking of her grandson.
“I whispered in my mother’s ear: ‘Mum, don’t worry, I will definitely find Jia Jia,'” she says. “It wasn’t just to fulfil my own wish, I wanted to fulfil my mother’s wish and find Jia Jia. My mother passed away in 2015 on 15 January, on the lunar calendar – that’s Jia Jia’s birthday. I felt that it was God’s way of reminding me to not forget the mother who gave birth to me and the son I gave birth to. On the same day one passed away and one was born.”
Then on 10 May this year – Mother’s Day – she got a call from Xi’an’s Public Security Bureau with the amazing news: “Mao Yin has been found.”
“I didn’t dare to believe it was real,” Jingzhi says.
In April, someone had given her a lead about a man who was taken from Xi’an many years ago. That person provided a picture of this boy as an adult. Jingzhi gave the picture to the police, and they used facial recognition technology to identify him as a man living in Chengdu City, in neighbouring Sichuan province, about 700km away.
The police then convinced him to take a DNA test. It was on 10 May that the result came back as a match.
The following week, police took blood samples to do a new round of DNA tests and the results proved beyond any doubt that they were mother and son.
“It was when I got the DNA results that I really believed that my son had really been found,” Jingzhi says.
After 32 years and more than 300 false leads the search was finally over.
Monday 18 May was chosen as the day for their reunion. Jingzhi was nervous. She wasn’t sure how her son would feel about her. He was now a grown man, married, and running his own interior decoration business.
“Before the meeting, I had a lot of worries. Perhaps he wouldn’t recognise me, or wouldn’t accept me, and perhaps in his heart he had forgotten me. I was very afraid that when I went to embrace my son, my son wouldn’t accept my embrace. I felt that would make me feel even more hurt, that the son I had been searching for, for 32 years, wouldn’t accept the love and hug I give him,” Jingzhi says.
Because of her frequent appearances on television to talk about the problem of missing children, her case had become well-known and the media was excited about reporting the story.
On the day of the reunion, China Central Television (CCTV) ran a live broadcast which showed Jia Jia walking into the ceremony hall at the Xi’an Public Security Bureau, calling out “Mother!” as he ran into her arms. Mother, son and father all wept together.
“That’s exactly the way he used to run towards me when he was a child,” Jingzhi says.
Jingzhi learned later that Jia Jia had been sold to a childless couple in Sichuan province for 6,000 yuan (£690/$840 in today’s money) one year after he was abducted. His adoptive parents renamed him Gu Ningning and raised him as their only child.
He attended elementary school, middle school and college in Chengdu city. Ironically, he had seen Jingzhi on television a few years earlier, and thought she was a warm-hearted person. He also thought the picture of her son she showed looked like him when he was a child. But he didn’t make the connection.
As for who gave Jingzhi the lead about her son’s whereabouts, that person prefers to remain anonymous.
After their reunion, Jia Jia spent a month in Xi’an, taking turns staying with his birth mother and father.
During this time, mother and son spent time looking at old photos, which both of them had hoped would awaken Jia Jia’s memory of his childhood before he went missing.
But sadly for them, Jia Jia doesn’t remember anything that happened to him before the age of four, when he went to live with his adoptive parents.
“This is something that makes my heart ache,” Jingzhi says. “After my son came back, he also wanted to find an image or memory of the life he had when he was still with me, but as of now, he still hasn’t found it.”
Jingzhi also realised, on a visit to a scenic spot in Xi’an, that it is impossible to relive the past.
“That day we went to the mountains and on the way down I said, ‘Jia Jia, let Mama carry you.’ But I couldn’t carry him. He was too big.
“I felt if he could return to my side, we could start all over again from when he was a child, we could fill this 32-year gap. I said to my son: ‘Jia Jia can you shrink back to the way you were before? You start at age two years and eight months and Mama will start at age 28 – let’s relive our lives all over again.'”
But Jingzhi knows that in reality this is impossible.
Jia Jia continues to live in Chengdu while Jingzhi still lives in Xi’an. Many people have suggested that she should persuade him to return to Xi’an to be by her side, but even though she would love for this to happen, she says she doesn’t want to make his life more complicated.
“He’s a grown-up now. He has his own way of thinking. He has his own life. Jia Jia has got married and has his own family. So I can only wish him well, from a distance. I know where my son is. I know he’s still alive. That’s enough.”
They are able, anyway, to communicate daily on China’s popular social media app, Wechat.
“My son’s personality is very similar to mine. He thinks of me a lot and I think of him a lot,” Jingzhi says. “After all these years, he’s still so loving towards me. It feels as if we hadn’t been separated. We are very close.”
Jia Jia prefers not to be interviewed and police are not revealing information about his adoptive parents.
As for who took Jia Jia away 32 years ago and how they did it, Jingzhi says she hopes the police will work it out. She wants to see the culprits punished for putting her through 32 years of anguish, and changing her life and Jia Jia’s.
She is now busy creating new memories with her long-lost son. They’ve taken many pictures together since their reunion.
Her favourite picture is the first they took together, the day after their reunion, when they spent time alone in a park.
In the picture, mother and son stand side by side, looking like exact replicas of each other, overjoyed finally to be reunited.
Jingzhi says in the past few years thanks to the efforts of the Chinese government and the Chinese media to publicise the problem, the number of child abduction cases has fallen.
But there are still many families looking for their missing children and many grown children looking for their birth parents. And this means there is more work for Jingzhi to do.
“I will continue to help people find their families,” she says.
Photographs courtesy of Li Jingzhi unless otherwise indicated
Kati Pohler was abandoned in a market in China when she was three days old. Her parents left a note saying they would meet her on a famous bridge 10 or 20 years later. When the time arrived, it became a huge story in China, but Kati was living in America and had no idea. This is how she finally met her biological family.