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Adam Minter

Censorship Feeds Criticism of Chinese Poisoning Case

Why did China’s leading social-media platform recently ban users from performing searches for a woman poisoned in 1995? Attempts to answer that question -- and to censor the answers -- have sparked some of the most politically potent online commentary on Chinese leadership, privilege and corruption in recent memory.

The details of the almost two-decade-old case are sordid and murky. In 1995, Zhu Ling was a promising undergraduate at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University when she came down with a mysterious illness that was thought to be poisoning via thallium, a toxic element once used as rat poison. This finding soon led to a suspect: Sun Wei, a roommate of Zhu’s who happened to be one of the few undergraduates at Tsinghua to have access to thallium in a laboratory.