Hu Wanlin was born in the city of Mianyang, Sichuan Province and only completed primary education. He was imprisoned for homicide in the 1980s  as well as swindling, and abducting and trafficking in women.  While in prison in 1993, he opened a medical practice.
He was acquitted on a retrial in 1997. On release he continued practising medicine illegally in the northern Shanxi Province and northwestern Shaanxi Province where he allegedly started two hospitals. This continued until February 1998, when he was banned by local authorities. Hu then went to Henan in June 1998.
Hu's 'treatments' were thought to have resulted in the death of at least 146 people. The “treatments” involved herbal preparations which were proved to contain high amounts of sodium sulphate which is poisonous in large doses. He also employed the traditional practice of qigong, in which the healer is said to emit qi from his body, which allegedly has curative powers without physical contact being necessary. Hu became well-known, having his medical practice and “medical miracles” described by a well-known Chinese novelist, Ke Yunlu. It seems that his malpractice continued for many years due to bribes paid to officials. 
Hu was arrested on January 18, 1999 in Shangqiu, aged 50, on suspicion of causing nearly 150 deaths. He was convicted of practising medicine without a license on October 1, 2000, receiving 15 years imprisonment, suspension of voting rights for five years and a 150,000 yuan fine.
- True TV, "Angels of Death: The Male Nurses"
- "China accuses 'mystic healer' of killing 150 of his patients" 8 January 1999 Guardian, "China accuses 'mystic healer' of killing 150 of his patients"
- Ramsland, Katherine M. (2007). Inside the minds of healthcare serial killers: why they kill. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-275-99422-8.
- Guardian 1 February 2000 "Doctor's name joins ranks of world's worst murderers"
- Inside the minds of healthcare serial killers: why they kill (2007) Katherine M. Ramsland" Greenwood Publishing Group, p112 ISBN 978-0-275-99422-8]
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