2 Apr 2024

3 Body Problem: Lawyer sentenced to death for Lin Qi murder

10:46 am on 2 April 2024

By Kelly Ng for the BBC

The headquarter building of the video game developer and publisher of browser and mobile games YOOZOO Games, Shanghai, China, 28 December 2020. (Photo by Stringer / Imaginechina via AFP)

The headquarter building of the video game developer and publisher of browser and mobile games Yoozoo Games founded by Lin Qi, who was the victim of a poisoning plot. Photo: Imaginechina / AFP

The release of Netflix's series 3 Body Problem has been watched millions of times around the globe since its release late last month.

It has even found an audience in China where Netflix is unavailable, sparking much chatter among viewers of the series.

But many fans of the three-book series, credited with propelling China's nascent science fiction genre after its publication in 2008, have also been paying attention to a court room in Shanghai where one of the key players behind the adaptation was sentenced to death just a day after the show's release.

His crime? Murdering a man sometimes dubbed China's "billionaire millennial" - the gaming tycoon Lin Qi, whose company Yoozoo Games owns the rights for film adaptations of the Chinese science fiction epic.

According to the court, Xu Yao, who was known as a distinguished lawyer, became consumed by professional rivalry after Lin sidelined him shortly after he helped land the Netflix deal in 2020.

Within months of this apparent slight, Lin was dead - the victim of a poisoning plot described as both "premeditated" and "extremely despicable" by the court last week.

For fans of The Three-Body Problem, which features an alien civilisation and is set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, the parallels were clear.

"At least we know that Xu Yao and Lin Qi have read The Three-Body Problem thoroughly. Lose your humanity and you lose a lot; lose your animal nature and you lose everything," said one comment on China's Weibo.

Lin and Xu were reportedly on good terms at the start: Lin had appointed Xu to spearhead a subsidiary called The Three Body Universe a year after he joined Yoozoo as the company's chief risk officer in 2017.

The subsidiary was in charge of securing intellectual property rights for the film adaptations, and the two had worked closely together in brokering the deal to adapt the novel into a Netflix original series.

But they fell out when Lin - who founded Yoozoo in 2009 - decided to put other executives in charge of business operations, local reports said. Xu, authorities allege, began to plot.

Some reports said he set up a company in Japan to acquire the lethal substances and even tested them on animals. Xu then disguised the substances as probiotic pills and gave them to Lin.

Lin checked himself into the hospital when he felt unwell after taking the pills, and was initially in stable condition. But his condition took a dramatic turn - he died 10 days later, on Christmas Day 2020, at the age of 39. At the time, he was believed to have had a net worth of around 6.8bn yuan (£745m; $941m), according to the Hurun China Rich List

Four other people fell sick from drinking poisoned beverages in the Yoozoo office but survived, the court heard.

Following his death, Yoozoo issued a statement on its official Weibo microblog which read: "Goodbye youth... We will be together, continue to be kind, continue to believe in goodness, and continue the fight against all that is bad."

His death shocked China's gaming and technology sectors and sparked widespread speculation, but it took years for the full details to emerge - despite Xu being detained within days.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy called Remembrance of Earth's Past, by Chinese author Liu Cixin. The novel has been translated into close to 30 languages since it was published in Chinese.

3 Body Problem debuted with 11 million views in its first four days and has remained among Netflix's most-watched programmes since its release on 21 March.

The series is one of the most expensive projects undertaken by the streaming giant, with a reported budget of $160m for eight episodes. Its co-creators include Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weis and the book's author Mr Liu. Lin is posthumously credited as an executive producer.

It earned positive reviews in China but has also drawn some criticism for its detailed portrayal of the Cultural Revolution and for allegedly shortchanging the Chinese themes in the original work.

Yoozoo also owns rights to the Chinese television series Three-Body, which premiered last year, as well as animation and stage adaptations of The Three-Body Problem.

- This story was first published by the BBC