Inside the Shocking Murder Plot Against Billionaire Producer of 3 Body Problem

The day after the sci-fi drama 3 Body Problem premiered on Netflix, lawyer Xu Yao was sentenced to death in China for poisoning the series' billionaire executive producer Lin Qi.

By Natalie Finn Apr 13, 2024 12:00 PMTags

A real-life mystery shrouded 3 Body Problem long before production got underway on the big-budget Netflix series.

The shoot itself wasn't plagued by anything more nefarious than creators David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and Alexander Woo deciding they needed five more minutes of footage to improve what was basically a finished product—after which the WGA and SAG strikes delayed the filming of that scene, meaning it wasn't ready for its originally scheduled 2023 release.

But on March 22, the day after the long-awaited adaptation of Liu Cixin's Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem premiered, Xu Yao—a lawyer and former gaming company executive—was sentenced to death in China for the murder of his 39-year-old billionaire boss Lin Qi.

The Shanghai First Intermediate People's Court determined Xu was responsible for fatally poisoning Lin at his office in December 2020, according to the Associated Press. Lin, the founder and CEO of Yoozoo Games, was hospitalized Dec. 17 and died on Christmas Day.

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Earlier this year, Benioff called Lin's death "certainly disconcerting," telling The Hollywood Reporter, "When you work in this business, you're expecting all sorts of issues to arise. Somebody poisoning the boss is not generally one of them."

Courtesy of Netflix

To put it mildly, and the strange case ended up rivaling the plot of any scripted series:

Who Was Lin Qi?

Lifelong video game enthusiast Lin Qi studied computer information management at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

He worked as a software engineer and was a partner at an online advertising firm before founding Yoozoo Games (also known as Youzu Interactive) in 2009, when he was only 27. 

In 2019, the Hurun China Rich List put Lin's net worth at $1 billion.

The Yoozoo catalog includes the 2014 release League of Angels and 2019's Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming, which launched shortly before the groundbreaking HBO series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ended after eight seasons.

In the meantime, Yoozoo had started buying up the rights to Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy—the first book being 2008's The Three-Body Problem—with an eye on turning it into a six-film franchise.

Lin spent an estimated $150 million securing every copyright and license he could related to the books, according to the New York Times.

"If you keep going forward, there will always be opportunity lying ahead," Lin once said on the Chinese TV show Boss Town, per the Times. "I am not afraid of failure. I can just start over again."

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Bringing the time-jumping series involving the Chinese Cultural Revolution, aliens and wild medical experimentation to the screen was easier envisioned than done, but in September 2020 Netflix announced that Benioff, Weiss and True Blood writer-producer Alexander Woo would be taking on Lin's passion project.

"Liu Cixin's trilogy is the most ambitious science-fiction series we've read, taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe," Benioff and Weiss said in a statement at the time. "We look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world."

Lin, who considered the project a cornerstone of his legacy, still worried about doing the story justice.

"It is said that your mind will be hit by a moment of extreme clarity when you are about to die," he said in a November 2020 interview, per CNN. "So I'm very afraid that what I'll be thinking before I die is: How did I destroy The Three-Body Problem?"

He died a month later

Lin Qi's Shocking Death

Shanghai police received a call from the hospital at 5 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2020, reporting that the Yoozoo founder had likely been poisoned, according to a statement shared by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau. Upon further investigation, police said, they arrested a coworker of Lin's with the surname Xu who "was the most likely perpetrator," and were holding him on suspicion of committing a major crime.

Yoozoo also issued a statement Dec. 23, per CNN, saying the chief executive had been hospitalized due to "physical discomfort" but his condition seemed to be improving.

However, Lin died on Dec. 25 at the age of 39.

"You saw through what was imperfect but still believed in beauty; encountered unkindness but still believed in kindness," read a social media post paying tribute to Lin attributed to the staff of Yoozoo, per Variety. "Together, we will continue to be kind, continue to believe in beauty, and continue to fight against all that is unkind."

A Murder Case Takes Shape

Within a day of his passing, state-run media in China were reporting that Lin's death was being investigated as a suspected murder by poisoning, possibly through the pu-erh tea he was known to drink.

Three days after Lin died, Shanghai police said in a statement that they had detained Xu Yao on Dec. 18 "in accordance with the law while the relevant investigative work is carried out."

Lin had hired Xu, a lawyer by trade, in 2017 to head up The Three-Body Problem Universe, a subsidiary of Yoozoo devoted to adapting the books for the screen in China, according to Variety.

While Chinese authorities didn't share any details about their case against Xu, the murder of one of the nation's richest men unsurprisingly caused a media frenzy. The magazine Caixin reported that Xu was disgruntled after being demoted and—being a huge fan of Breaking Badbuilt a whole lab to test various poisons he purchased on the dark web.

In announcing the guilty verdict and death sentence, the Shanghai First Intermediate People's Court stated on its official WeChat account, according to the Times, that Xu plotted to poison Lin and four others in the office who were sickened but did not die after drinking tainted beverages between September 2020 and December 2020. 

Xu did not confess, the court said, and did not reveal what type of poison he used, which may have complicated efforts to treat Lin at the hospital.

What's Next for 3 Body Problem

Lin remains credited as an executive producer on the eight-episode season of 3 Body Problem, which premiered March 21 on Netflix. It's consistently been ranking in the streamer's Top 10, but has not yet been renewed for a second season—though its creators will be ready to roll as soon as they get the green light. 

If they do, that is.

"Liu Cixin's created this indelible trilogy and the books just get better for me," Benioff told The Hollywood Reporter. "The second book is far better than the first, and the third book just completely blew my mind. The story just gets more and more ambitious as it goes, and it takes a huge leap in book two. So I feel like if we survive to the second season, we're going to be in a good place."

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