A teen went missing in China for over 100 days. His body has only thrown up more questions

Hu Xinyu, a 15-year-old, was last seen walking the corridors of Zhiyuan Middle School in Shangrao city, Jiangxi province. Image Courtesy: Weibo

Where is Hu Xinyu? That’s the question that China has been asking for the past three months. On Monday, the country finally got its answer — but instead of providing closure and understanding, it has only raised more questions.

For those wondering what’s the matter all about, read on to know about the disappearance of the Chinese teen that gripped the country’s attention for the past three months and the mysterious circumstances around his death.

Hu Xinyu and his disappearance

Hu Xinyu, a 15-year-old teen, became a trending topic on China’s social media — Weibo, when he disappeared from Zhiyuan Middle School in Shangrao city, Jiangxi province. According to surveillance footage, the teen was last seen on 14 October 2022 leaving the school’s dormitory.

Zhiyuan Middle School is an expensive private boarding school that Hu attended, thanks to a scholarship. Surveillance footage showed him walking down a hallway from his dorm to a classroom for an evening study session.

According to the police, Hu left his identity card, cash, and smart watch in his dormitory but took a digital voice recorder and his school card before going missing from his hillside school. They added that he vanished between the dormitory and the teaching building, in an area not covered by cameras.

Six hours later, when he didn’t show up, his family was informed of his disappearance, following which a missing persons report was filed.

The teen’s sudden disappearance prompted authorities to launch a manhunt for him, complete with sniffer dogs, drones and thermal imaging equipment.

It also gave rise to conspiracy theories on social media, with some asking if he had been killed or abducted by a gang for organ harvesting. The theories continued to grow on Weibo and soon ‘Where is Hu Xinyu’ became the most discussed topic.

Authorities and his family searched high and low — they combed the campus and even drained the lake and septic tank — but to no avail.

The search continued into early January, with thousands of people joining the efforts, said the state media. Even government workers joined the manhunt, but there were no signs of him anywhere.

Hu Xinyu’s body found

When almost all hope was given up on finding Hu Xinyu, a body was recovered from the mountains near the Zhiyuan school on Sunday.

Police officials announced a day later that the DNA samples pulled from the body found in the mountains matched that of Hu Xinyu. Moreover, clothes on the body also matched those that the teen was wearing when he went missing.

An autopsy was also performed at the city’s Qianshan County Funeral Home on Sunday afternoon, according to Thepaper.cn. But results have not been released.

A voice recorder has also been found near the body which has been sent for analysis, the police said.

However, it is still unclear how Hu Xinyu’s body landed up in the Jinji Mountain area. It is also not ascertained if he was murdered or he died by suicide.

China’s missing children

Though Hu Xinyu’s disappearance made headlines, it’s not new in China. Children and teenagers have often gone missing in China. There are no exact figures on how many children go missing in the Asian country but academics estimate that it could be anywhere between 20,000 and 200,000.

Many attribute the high number of missing children to the country’s one-child policy, which was only recently abolished. Families desperate to have sons — owing to the patriarchal nature of society — take the drastic measure of buying them.

Chinese officials have taken note of the rising number of missing children and in 2016 launched the Tuanyuan program, which tried to reconnect missing children with their families. In 2021, the police said that they had helped a total of 10,932 missing or abducted children return home.

However, it is still worrying that in a country like China — which is known for its mass surveillance — how so many children and teens continue to vanish. It is reported that China has the world’s largest surveillance network; it deploys over half of all surveillance cameras in use around the world.

Also read: How China’s COVID-19 tracking app is a ‘digital handcuff’ used to crush dissent

Every aspect of Chinese life is covered by cameras. As per a report in The Quilette, there are an estimated 540 million CCTV cameras in China; they watch citizens as they shop and dine. They stare at residents when they leave home in the morning for work and even spy on them at office. Even school children are monitored throughout the day.

Hence, in a situation where Big Brother is always watching, how is it that Hu Xinyu went missing for over 100 days and no one still has any answers.

With inputs from agencies

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