20 years later: Zhu Ling poisoning case raises questions in China


By Mujie Cui

After 20 years, Chinese Internet-citizens have brought attention back to the unsolved case of Zhu Ling. A student at Tsinghua University, known as “China’s Harvard,” Zhu Ling ‘92 was a happy and bright girl who played piano and majored in physical chemistry before shewas poisoned during her sophomore year.

The symptoms of poisoning occurred over the course of the following two years. In September of 1994, Zhu encountered temporary blindness and hair loss, but returned to school after she recovered. However, two months later, Zhu began to suffer strong pains in her calf and feet, and later on in her waist. Zhu then lost control of her eye muscles and suffered partial facial paralysis. She could not breathe on her own and she was put on a respirator. Zhu’s symptoms lead doctors to believe that it was a case of thallium poisoning, but when Zhu’s school and classmates denied the access to thallium, it was temporarily ruled out as a cause.

In April of 1995, two of Zhu’s classmates started an SOS letter on several Internet groups. They posted Zhu’s symptoms and asked people to help with the diagnosis. More than 1,500 responses diagnosed Zhu as poisoned by thallium.

Subsequent tests showed the thallium level inside Zhu’s body was 10,000 times more than a normal person. Plasma exchange therapy saved her life, but she is still paralyzed and almost completely blind.

The primary suspect in the poisoning case is Sun Wei, whose grandfather was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

A hacker who claimed he had hacked into the email account of one of Sun Wei’s roommates, revealed emails between Sun and several of her classmates, showing that Sun had been guiding them through how to post on forums to declare her innocence and preparing for Sun’s statement in 2005. Among the Internet users in the discussion, many people believe that Sun is the real poisoner and she has not been charged just because of her family connections.

One person by the name of “Y.Z.” from Miami has made further accusations. Naming Sun as the prime suspect in the poisoning case and accusing her of committing marriage fraud to enter the United States, Y.Z. made a petition that calls for the U.S. government to investigate and deport Sun “to protect the safety of our citizens.” The petition was signed by 145,089 people.

From here I think it is right for people to seek help outside to investigate Zhu’s cold case.  But some netizens (Internet citizens) are going too far and too extreme.  It is clear how Zhu Ling’s case is related to the current affairs of Chinese society and government.

People treat Zhu Ling’s case as a representation of the lack of justice and fairness, and the feeling that privileged people can do anything without facing the consequences. Some netizens post online that people feel unsafe and are not protected living in an unjust society.  `

Internet is a coin with two sides. Internet brought the power of individuals together.  It can expose unseen facts to mass media and gather attention. But it can also wear away individual’s thoughts and opinions.

Government, extreme netizens and many factors are controlling the media. We can hardly see what is going on.  People lose their individuality and become a person whom cannot live without depending on other people. Still we should investigate this cold case.

Zhu’s family must have suffered a great amount of pain during the past 20 years.

Sun and her roommates might be the suspects, but without evidence, it is hard to draw a conclusion.



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