‘Breaking Bad’ for Real for Self-Taught Chinese Meth Maker

‘Breaking Bad’ for Real for Self-Taught Chinese Meth Maker
Chinese police car in front of a crowd. (Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages)
Daniel Holl

A real-life version of “Breaking Bad” that was playing out in China has witnessed its own “series finale.” A self-taught man, with only a middle-school education, was described by police as surpassing the skills of some organized gangs in manufacturing methamphetamine.

A man surnamed Lei was arrested Jan. 5 after establishing a methamphetamine laboratory under the stairs of his first-floor apartment in Luzhou City, Sichuan Province, according to the Chengdu Economic Daily.

Lei’s method was perfected through trial and error, including by sampling his own drug. Just as his production hit high levels of purity, the police found him.

Lei told a court hearing that, after being laid off from his leather factory job, he found that he could make easy money cooking meth; he taught himself chemistry over a four- to five-year period.

The operation was discovered when the anti-drug division of the district’s public security bureau noticed chemicals being delivered to Lei’s residential district—chemicals that could be specifically used for drug production.

The police described a pungent odor emanating from the room as they prepared for an arrest. Meth labs have a variety of odors, including that of cat urine or rotten eggs.

What they discovered inside Lei’s apartment was a fully functional lab, over 180 grams (6.3 oz.) of methamphetamine, and more than five liters (1.4 gallons) of liquid that was reported to contain drugs. Police also found 20 notebooks filled with notes from his self-taught education process, and 10 chemistry-related books.

The police described the earliest notes as relatively rudimentary, but his later methods were advanced, with knowledge of five different ways to produce the drug.

In China, drug-related charges often carry heavy sentences. A Canadian citizen was sentenced to death on Jan. 14 for charges of smuggling 222 kilograms (490 pounds) of methamphetamine to Australia from China.

While illegal drugs from China, including precursor chemicals used in Mexican meth, have been finding their way into the United States, the drug that’s currently devastating U.S. communities is the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called China’s export of fentanyl to the United States a form of undeclared warfare, while Chinese leader Xi Jinping has promised to crack down on fentanyl production, a drug similar to, but much more potent than, heroin.
In August last year, two Chinese citizens from Shanghai were charged in the United States with operating a fentanyl production ring. The drug was responsible for the deaths of two people in Ohio, according to prosecutors. On Jan. 13, one individual died from an overdose of fentanyl, with more than 10 others hospitalized in Chico, California.

Chinese companies have also made minor modifications to fentanyl recipes, likely to dodge legal implications within China.

Daniel Holl is a Sacramento, California-based reporter, specializing in China-related topics. He moved to China alone and stayed there for almost seven years, learning the language and culture. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
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