Charlie Custer Jul 25 2013, 2:02 PM ET
In March 2011, Rose Candis had the worst lunch of her life. Sitting at a restaurant in Shaoguan, a small city in South China, the American mother tried hard not to vomit while her traveling companion translated what the man they were eating with had just explained: her adopted Chinese daughter Erica had been purchased, and then essentially resold to her for profit. The papers the Chinese orphanage had shown her documenting how her daughter had been abandoned by the side of a road were fakes. The tin of earth the orphanage had given her so that her daughter could always keep a piece of her home with her as she grew up in the U.S. was a fraud, a pile of dirt from the place her daughter's paperwork was forged, not where she was born. Candis had flown thousands of miles to answer her daughter Erica's question -- who are my birth parents? -- but now she was further from the answer than ever.
Almost exactly a year earlier, Liu Liqin had the worst day of his life. He was out on a temporary construction job, looking forward to lunch and his next cigarette break, when his wife called to tell him that their two-year-old son Liu Jingjun was missing. Liu rushed home and began a frantic but fruitless search for the boy. He and his wife called relatives, ran to the local police station to report Jingjun missing, and then fanned out through their city neighborhood calling the boy's name and asking passers-by if they had seen anything. The police told him they couldn't take the case because not enough time had passed since the boy had disappeared. Finally, late in the evening, Liu thought to check the footage from a surveillance camera at a building on the street outside his family's apartment. Sure enough, when the video footage was queued up, in a small corner of the frame, Liu could see a man, face obscured, carrying little Jingjun down the narrow alley where the Liu family lives. I met Liu for the first time in that same alley; he had agreed to become the first subject of a documentary film I was making about kidnapped children in China. "Watching the man in the footage taking him away, I just..." Liu trailed off. "There's really no way to describe that feeling."