Baby Tiantian was born in December 2017 in a hospital in Guangzhou, a port city to the northwest of Hong Kong. He looks like a typical infant but he has an extremely unusual backstory – his parents died in a car crash four years before his birth.
Couple Shen Jie and Liu Xi were planning to conceive using in vitro fertilization (IVF) but tragically, the Beijing News reports, five days before the frozen embryo was due to be transplanted into Liu, the pair passed away in a car accident.
That was in March 2013. For three years, the couple's parents – Tiantian's four grandparents – were involved in a fraught and contentious custody battle to obtain rights to the four frozen embryos.
It was the first case of its kind and there was no regulation in China advising how to handle untransplanted embryos, so the grandparents were embarking on new legal territory. Fortunately, after a series of court cases, they won the much sought after custody rights.
Then came the next hurdle: who would be the child's surrogate mother?
In China, commercial surrogacy is illegal. The practice is also banned, or severely limited, in many surrounding countries, like Thailand and India. Laos is one of the few Southeast Asian countries where the rules are a little more relaxed – the Bejing News calls it "the new darling of commercial surrogacy".
So, in January 2017, the grandparents traveled to Laos to search for a surrogate mother. No airline would carry the embryos, which were encased in a thermos containing 196°C (385°F) liquid nitrogen, so the trip was taken by car. To avoid any citizenship issues, the surrogate was later brought back to China on a tourist visa to give birth.
When the child was born, the grandparents were also required to take paternity tests to prove they were, in fact, Tiantian's relatives, but the extraordinary effort was worth it. The grandparents are said to be very happy to have Tiantian, whose name means "sweetness" in Chinese.
"The eyes are like my daughter, but still a little more like his father," the baby's maternal grandmother, Hu Xingxian, told the Beijing News.