Man forced to work at illegal factory for a decade reunited with family after chance encounter at shopping centre

For a woman surnamed Wu, a mundane trip to a shopping centre resulted in her helping a man who had been tricked into forced labour ten years ago reunite with his long-lost family.

Wu, who was from the same village in Guizhou in southern China, found the man, who was homeless at the time, at a local shopping centre in Kaili City, according to the Guizhou Metropolis News.

Wu Fangwen (centre) was recognized and sent home by a fellow villager (left) after being found homeless in Kaili City. Credit: Kaili People Radio Station

“We were very young and we only heard the adults saying the man lost touch with his family after leaving home to work and they couldn’t find him anywhere,” said Wu.

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The man, who shares the same surname and is named Wu Fangwen, had been tricked into forced labour by an illegal brickmaking factory when he left home a decade ago. He said the organisation took away his mobile phone and ID card, making it impossible to escape.

Wu Fangwen was forced to make bricks for a decade and was treated terribly, eventually losing his memory because of ill health. Finally, a moment presented itself, and the man was able to run away in February.

With no identification and in ill health, he was left to wander about until aid workers at the regional civil affairs office found him and guided him from Maoming, in Guangdong, to Kaili City, about 850km away.

Wu Fangwen was finally reunited with his family after managing to escape ten years of forced labour. Credit: Kaili People Radio Station

Unfortunately, the ordeal was not finished, as the man still could not get home from Kaili City for ten days until he randomly bumped into Wu, the woman who helped him get home.

Wu, for her part, was doubtful that such a once-in-a-billion coincidence could exist, but she decided to take a chance:

“I called his name in my home dialect and he immediately cried. I knew then I’d found him,” she said.

The woman then began to ask Wu Fangwen where he had been, telling him his family had searched everywhere for the man, who now looked very thin and had a hunched back.

Wu Fangwen was not looking very healthy when his fellow villager, also named Wu, found him. Credit: Kaili People Radio Station

“Your mother was always crying when she lost touch and she became ill,” she told him.

The woman then contacted Wu Fangwen’s family, who cried upon hearing their long-lost family member had been discovered.

“He cried after I told him that I would take him home. I am emotional too. I feel so distressed looking at him,” the woman said.

Many on social media expressed their sympathy for the man and applauded the woman for her kindness.

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“What kind of life he must have been through for the past ten years... It’s very lucky that he met this kind woman,” one user on the Twitter-like platform Weibo said.

“This woman was really clever to use the home dialect first to confirm. Her kindness should be rewarded,” another added.

Incidents of captured labour in China are rare but not unprecedented. A court in Fangcheng county in Henan, a province in central China, sentenced four men to between seven and nine months in jail for forcing more than 20 mentally challenged people to work at a factory that makes kilns for about a year between 2006 and 2007, according to People’s Court Daily.

The workers were trafficked from cities in Henan, beaten, locked in the factory and forced to work long hours before being reported and released in 2007.

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