The film is a powerful indictment of the unforeseen impact of the world's largest experiment in social engineering. One man, Detective Zhu, works full-time to locate missing children, with modest success. His latest case involves Chen Jie, a boy kidnapped at 5 while under his grandmother's care (his heartbroken parents hire Zhu to track him down). Also profiled are Wang Li, a trafficker who once sold his own son; Jong Jang, one of the lucky few stolen children to be rescued; and Way Ling, a mother-to-be who, at 19, is too young to be legally married, and who now faces a dilemma: whether to pay exorbitant fines to keep a baby born without identity or rights, or sell it through a broker like Wang Li. While thousands of heart-wrenching tales like these unfold each year, Zhu laments that authorities seem more concerned with keeping the crisis quiet than tracking down stolen sons and daughters.
Legal abortions are commonplace for Chinese families in the one-child era. Moreover, with ultrasound machines allowing parents to determine gender at 4-5 months, many first-time pregnancies are aborted if the fetus is female. This selective (and illegal) practice is the result of China's traditional preference for sons; here and in other Asian cultures, brides migrate to husbands' families, leaving their own parents to fend for themselves in old age. Because of this, parents covet male babies. In the one-child era, as many as 40 million baby girls have been selectively aborted - creating a gender gap that has left millions of men with little hope of finding wives. And while the black market for male children remains robust, there is a growing demand for girls as well.