Zhu Ling (poisoning victim)

Zhu Ling (zh-cp|c=朱令|p=Zhū Lìng, b. 1973) [http://www.nanfangdaily.com.cn/rwzk/20060111/mj/200603030019_290762.jpgphoto] is best known as the victim of an unsolved 1995 thallium poisoning case in Beijing, China. Her case was reported to the public via the Usenet newsgroup by her classmate, and was subsequently picked up by news networks all over the world. Her case was reviewed by physicians in many different countries who examined her symptoms and made suggestions as to diagnoses and treatment. Her life was ultimately saved, but she suffered serious neurological damage and permanent physical impairment. The incident recently received new attention from the media due to renewed public attacks on the suspected poisoner.

Poisoning case

In 1994, Zhu Ling was a sophomore in Class Wuhua2 (Physical Chemistry) at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Classmates described her as attractive, intelligent, and talented, with an interest in music. She began to show strange and debilitating symptoms at the end of 1994, when she reported experiencing acute stomach pain, along with extensive hair loss. Following her hospitalization at TongRen Hospital, her condition gradually improved and she was allowed to return to school. The following March, however, her old symptoms returned worse than before, this time accompanied by pain in her legs, loss of muscular eye control, and partial facial paralysis. Unable to breathe on her own, she was placed on a respirator.

One physician at Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH), Dr. Li Shun-wei, reported having diagnosed a similar poisoning case in the 1960s and strongly suspected that Zhu Ling's symptoms were caused by thallium poisoning. However, Zhu Ling denied that she had had any contact with thallium in class, a claim which was confirmed by her university's chemistry department. As a result, her doctors ruled out thallium poisoning as a potential cause. Instead, she was diagnosed with and treated for acute disseminated encephalomyeloradiculoneuritis. Her condition deteriorated rapidly.

Diagnosed via Internet

Frustrated with local physicians' inability to help Zhu Ling, friends Cai Quanqing and Bei Zhicheng posted an "SOS" letter on a number of Internet usenet groups describing their friend's symptoms and asking for help with a diagnosis. Responses began pouring in within a matter of hours, and news reports hailed the event as a milestone in Internet culture, especially in China. Of the more than 1,500 responses which Zhu Ling's friends received, roughly one-third proposed that she was suffering from thallium poisoning, the common antidote for which is known as Prussian blue.

Subsequent tests confirmed that Zhu Ling had extraordinarily high levels of the heavy metal in her body. Doctors were able to administer the antidote in time to save her life, but she sustained serious permanent neurological damage. While she has recovered the ability to breathe on her own, she still cannot speak and remains largely paralyzed and blind, with severely reduced mental function. In addition, she has contracted Hepatitis C from a tainted blood transfusion. Once again, her family and friends are using the Internet to seek help for her, but this time they ask for donations to help pay for her care and rehabilitation on a [http://www.helpzhuling.org/default.aspx website] dedicated to the cause.

Police investigation

The police began investigating the case in May 1995. It was not until January 2006 that police finally revealed to the media that their initial investigations had yielded a possible suspect, Zhu Ling's then-roommate. No explanation was given for the delay in releasing this information, and no one has yet been formally charged in connection with the case. The primary investigator, Li Shusen, told a correspondent from "Southern People Weekly" in a January 2006 phone interview that investigators have in fact reached some important conclusions regarding the case, but that the information is too sensitive to be released to the public at this time.

The only suspect is a relative of Sun Fuling, one of the former Vice-Chairman of CPPCC. This case is believed to be blocked because of some political pressures.


The only suspect from police is Sun Wei, who was Zhu Ling's classmate and roommate in Tsinghua University. Tsinghua University also said she was the only student who could reach thallium at school. That aside, it is believed that had it been not because of her political relationships, the case would not be blocked for a dozen of years.

While official media coverage of the case remains tightly controlled by the Chinese government, Internet discussion of the crime continues, especially among the overseas students and scholars, who speculate that the main suspect has not been charged due to her family connections.

The case began to draw extensive public attention near the end of 2005, after an ID named skyoneline posted on one of the largest Chinese online bulletin boards, again questioning the innocence of the suspect and her family's role in blocking investigation and prosecution of the case. In response, after over 10 years of silence, on December 30, the main suspect released a statement proclaiming her innocence.

According to the statement, the suspect was identified as the only student with official access to thallium in her experiment. She was detained by the police department on April 2, 1997, and signed a paper acknowledging she was a suspect. Police released her after 8 hours of interrogation. In her statement, she also claimed that, according to the laws, she was cleared as a suspect in August 1998. However, in a Morning News Post report dated March 2006, Zhu Ling’s lawyer said of the suspect, "She was only exempted from the compulsory measure she was subjected to as a suspect at that time, but not excluded from suspicion."

Since releasing her statement, the former suspect has been bombarded by tens of thousands of emails from angry protesters. Her telephone numbers, home address, private email exchanges and even personal photos were released in public. Hundreds of people sent emails and faxes to the companies which her family and friends worked. Their home addresses, telephone numbers and personal photos were released in public too.


*Bei Zhicheng, Cai Quanqing [http://groups.google.com/group/sci.med/msg/8ee9cc1c5f81bc24?&hl=zh-CN SoS letter for Zhu Ling posted on Usenet] April 10th, 1994
*Yu Chih-Ho, Huang Ning [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NEW/is_1995_Sept_8/ai_17378631/pg_2 "China - Mystery Ailment Diagnosed Via Internet"] Newsbytes News Network, Sept 8, 1995
*Loonen J. (Rosas C&M, The Netherlands) [http://www.ednes.org/telesol/materials/d7/D7_newsletter_2_english.pdf "Telemedicine--Telework in medicine and business"] TELESOL Newsletter Volume 2, pages 9-11.
*Yu Renfei [http://www.jfdaily.com.cn/gb/node2/node17/node33/node80407/node80410/userobject1ai1259069.html Zhu Ling's lawyers involved to collect evidences] News Morning Post, March 14th, 2006
*Jessie Tao [http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2006-01/13/content_512136.htm Campus poisoning mystery triggers debate] China Daily: English Version, January 13th, 2006
*Wu Hongfei, et al. [http://www.nanfangdaily.com.cn/rwzk/20060111/mj/200603030019.asp Ten-year unresolved poisoning case: the suspect is said to have special background] Southern People Weekly, January 11th, 2006

External links

* [http://groups-beta.google.com/group/misc.education.medical/browse_thread/thread/d36916e7efc4222b/138e0bd81b4e8611 One of the original Usenet posts asking for help]
* [http://www.helpzhuling.org/chinese.aspx Help Zhu Ling Foundation]

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