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3 Body Problem: The murder plot behind the hit TV show

The front cover of the book 'The Three-Body Problem'
Image: Ralf Liebhold /

A massive adaptation of a Chinese book series, with each episode costing around $20 million to make, 3 Body Problem quickly became one of Netflix’s most-watched programmes in the UK when it was released in March. Behind the scenes, though, a completely different story was unfolding, one that involved a murder plot, a trial and a death sentence.

How did a TV adaptation of a hit novel end with some of the central players dead?

Three-Body Problem

It started with the book, Three-Body Problem, the first of a trilogy of science fiction novels written by Chinese author Liu Cixin. The English translation was highly acclaimed by critics and readers alike. It won the Hugo Award - the first Asian novel to do so – and even Barack Obama was a fan.

Later, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the creators behind HBO’s Game of Thrones, became involved in bringing the book to television, adding the writer Alexander Woo to the team. It had every reason to be a success for all involved.

Only, that wasn’t the case.

Before it could even make it to the small screen, a key figure in the adaption was dead. A day after it debuted, someone else was sentenced for poisoning him.

The fallout

The victim was Lin Qi, a 39-year-old billionaire, the founder of Chinese gaming company Yoozoo Games and a credited producer on the show. The man who poisoned him was Xu Yao, a lawyer and former executive of the company.

Lin had big dreams for Liu Cixin’s books, envisioning a universe that included film, television and video game adaptations. He had bought the rights and licences to the novels, spending millions in a complicated process that took years.

In 2017, Lin hired Xu Yao. The lawyer helped secure the rights to the series and afterwards, became the head of the Yoozoo Games division that dealt exclusively with the Three-Body universe.

But it was from here that things began to sour. After Xu’s initial success, Lin began to get frustrated with his performance. There were stories of disputes between the two men. Xu’s projects were given to another executive at the company, Zhao Jilong. Xu was demoted and his pay was cut.

When the deal with Netflix was announced, only Lin and Zhao were listed as executive producers. Xu was not.

The plot

At that point, Xu took matters into his own hands, crafting a murder plot that rivalled those seen on screen.

A fan of Breaking Bad, Xu Yao set up a lab in Shanghai, went onto the dark web and ordered over a hundred poisons. He also established a trading company in Japan, in order to acquire hazardous chemicals. From there, he started experimenting with mixing the toxins and testing out his potions on animals. He crafted the poison into a pill, which he put into a jar of probiotic tablets.

Over the space of a few months in 2020, Xu put his plan to work. He gave the jar of probiotics to Lin Qi, via Lin’s secretary. She gave Lin the pills, while also taking some herself.

Xu didn’t stop there. He also replaced bottled water, coffee capsules and whiskey with methylmercury chloride. Lin was said to have drunk poisoned tea as well. Xu didn’t only target Lin, but two other executives he was said to have had disputes with. His victims included his replacement, Zhao Jilong.

On 15th December 2020, Lin felt unwell and went to the hospital. Five different poisons were found in his body. He underwent surgery and had a massive blood infusion. For a while, he seemed to stabilise. But 10 days later, on Christmas Day, he died.

Four other people in the company also fell sick, but all survived.

After the poison was found in Lin’s body, the authorities began to look for the culprit and Xu Yao was the obvious suspect.

Xu was arrested on 18th December. He refused to tell authorities what form of poison he had administered, taking away any chance doctors might have had to save Lin’s life.

The aftermath

In October 2023, Xu was put on trial for the murder and found guilty. In March of this year, over three years since Lin Qi was murdered and a day after 3 Body Problem debuted on Netflix, he was sentenced to death.

Lin Qi was credited posthumously as a producer on 3 Body Problem, a passion project he never got to see come to fruition.