The Bizarre Chinese Murder Plot Behind Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’

Lin Qi was a billionaire with a dream. The video game tycoon had wanted to turn one of China’s most famous science-fiction novels, “The Three-Body Problem,” into a global hit. He had started working with Netflix and the creators of the HBO series “Game of Thrones” to bring the alien invasion saga to international audiences.

But Mr. Lin did not live to see “3 Body Problem” premiere on Netflix last month, drawing millions of viewers.

He was poisoned to death in Shanghai in 2020, at age 39, by a disgruntled colleague, in a killing that riveted the country’s tech and video-gaming circles where he had been a prominent rising star. That colleague, Xu Yao, a 43-year-old former executive in Mr. Lin’s company, was last month sentenced to death for murder by a court in Shanghai, which called his actions “extremely despicable.”

The court has made few specific details public, but Mr. Lin’s killing was, as a Chinese news outlet put it, “as bizarre as a Hollywood blockbuster.” Chinese media reports, citing sources in his company and court documents, have described a tale of deadly corporate ambition and rivalry with a macabre edge. Sidelined at work, Mr. Xu reportedly exacted vengeance with meticulous planning, including by testing poisons on small animals in a makeshift lab. (He not only killed Mr. Lin, but also poisoned his own replacement.)

Mr. Lin had spent millions of dollars in 2014 buying up copyrights and licenses connected to the original Chinese science-fiction book, “The Three-Body Problem,” and two others in a trilogy written by the Chinese author Liu Cixin. “The Three-Body Problem” tells the story of an engineer, called upon by the Chinese authorities to look into a spate of suicides by scientists, who discovers an extraterrestrial plot. Mr. Lin had wanted to build a franchise of global television shows and films akin to “Star Wars” and centered on the novels.

Mr. Lin would eventually link up with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the television series “Game of Thrones,” to work on the Netflix project. Mr. Lin’s gaming company, Youzu Interactive, which goes by Yoozoo in English, is no stranger to the HBO hit; its best-known release is an online strategy game based on the show called “Game of Thrones: Winter Is Coming.”

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