Let’s talk about it: Yuan Xia Wang

This week’s “let’s talk about it” case is Yuan Xia Wang, a young Chinese girl who disappeared from Lincolnia, Virginia on October 21, 1998. I was just getting interested in missing persons at that time and I remember seeing her NCMEC poster right after she disappeared and wondering about it. Like most of their posters, it said very little, and it was years before I learned the details of her disappearance.

Yuan was smuggled into the country by a Thai man, using someone else’s genuine Thai passport. According to this Washington Post article, the immigration and customs people caught them after someone at the airport realized she didn’t speak Thai, and her smuggler was arrested.

Usually, Chinese immigrants who get smuggled into the U.S. are sent “to restaurants or brothels where they are held in virtual servitude to pay off huge smuggling fees.” Yuan’s case was somewhat unusual in that her passage was paid for in advance.

She said she was twelve, but the authorities doubted it and so do I. I was five feet even at that age, about middling height for the girls in my class at school, and I think Chinese people tend to be smaller than Americans. Yuan was five feet six. They thought she could have been as old as fifteen. I don’t know what reason she would have had to lie; perhaps she felt she would be better treated if they thought she was younger.

Yuan was sent to a foster home. Her foster family welcomed her as best they could, but they didn’t speak Mandarin, and she was the only Mandarin-speaking student at her new school. If I were her I’d have been desperately lonely. She vanished without a trace six weeks later — significantly, perhaps, on a day she had a doctor’s appointment.

They’re not sure what happened to her. The most obvious suggestions are that she either ran away or got picked up (voluntarily or otherwise) by someone, like a relative or someone involved in the smuggling, in order to avoid deportation. (The U.S. authorities hadn’t decided what to do with her yet; she could have been either deported or allowed to stay.) I suppose it’s possible she could have been abducted for reasons having nothing to do with her immigration status, as well.

Other than a lead placing her in Kansas City in 2008, there hasn’t been any sign of her in almost twenty years.

Let’s talk about it.