Decades-old case returns to public eye

Updated: 2013-05-08 09:33

By Peng Yining, He Na and Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

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Decades-old case returns to public eye

Zhu Mingxin, 72, helps administer Zhu Ling's medicine. Zhu's elderly parents begin their busy 'work schedule' at 7 am every day. Provided to China Daily

Internet petition on unsolved crime causes unease, report Peng Yining, He Na and Zhang Yuchen in Beijing.

Decades-old case returns to public eye

An unsolved case of poisoning nearly two decades old has hit the headlines again after a petition posted on the White House website named a suspect and called for her to be extradited to China.

The petition, which has collected more than 130,000 signatures in the "We the People" section of the site, alleged that 39-year-old Sun Wei was the perpetrator of the incident and even claimed she is living in the United States illegally because she gained entry to the country via a fraudulent marriage. The petition offered no evidence to back up the claims.

However, one comment - "The US government should deport Sun!" - was representative of the feverish mood of many petitioners.

The story began in 1994 when Zhu Ling, a 21-year-old student at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was poisoned with the heavy metal thallium. It is thought that her cup of water had been laced with the metal.

Although her life was saved, Zhu was left with serious neurological damage and permanent physical impairment.

Once a talented student with promising future, Zhu now is paralyzed and practically blind. A number of her internal organs are damaged beyond recovery, and as a result, she needs constant supervision and care.

Although no evidence has ever been presented publicly and no charges brought, online speculation suggested that Sun, one of Zhu's roommates, was behind the incident. More startlingly, there have been claims that she wasn't charged with the crime because a number of her relatives were powerful officials. Again, no evidence has been produced that this was the case.

Beijing police spent four years investigating the incident. Although Sun was questioned as part of the investigation, the police took no further action. It is not known whether Zhu's other roommates were also questioned at the time. By 1999, the police concluded that forensic evidence from the scene had deteriorated to the point where a conviction would be impossible.

Uneasy reactions

The White House petition quickly drew comments from Chinese citizens and expatriates, with many posting and reposting items on social media sites and online forums. However, the timing and tenor of the recent accusations against Sun have caused unease.

Haipei Xue, president of the National Council of Chinese Americans, said he believed most of the signatures may have come from Chinese citizens, but he emphasized that the White House website is designed to serve US nationals.

"I don't think the process is appropriate," he said. "Chinese Internet users should seek answers from the Chinese government first."

Zhang Jie, Zhu Ling's lawyer and a senior partner at Beijing Litian Law Office, said that although he appreciated the sincerity of the opinions aired, posting a petition on the website of a foreign government is not the right way to seek help.

"Zhu Ling's case is still under the provenance of Chinese law, and I object to the use of these channels to ask a foreign power to intervene in Chinese domestic justice," he said.

However, some observers said the fevered online reaction indicated a widespread desire for retribution and that Sun has become a focal point for the disaffected.

The rumor that Sun comes from the family of a senior official can be seen as a manifestation of public anger against the wealthy and privileged, according to Lin Guirui, a psychology professor at the Capital Normal University.

"It is similar to a case at a university in Hebei province a few years ago. A student killed a pedestrian while driving recklessly. When onlookers attempted to detain him, the student made threats and informed them that his father was Li Gang, an official at the local public security bureau," said Lin. "In reality, it was just a car accident, but it triggered a huge public outcry, prompted by an intense dislike of privilege and wealth."

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