HONG KONG—Police in Beijing say they have detained a prominent Chinese urologist in connection with an assault on science writer Fang Zhouzi last month.
Xiao Chuanguo, professor of urology at the Huazhong Science and Technology University in the central city of Wuhan, was named as the person who hired the attackers after they were tracked down, police officials told reporters in Beijing this week.
Xiao was arrested at Shanghai's Pudong airport on Sept. 21, and confessed to hiring the men who attacked Fang Zhouzi and those who carried out a similar earlier attack on "Caijing" magazine reporter Fang Xuanchang.
Both writers had called into question the effectiveness of "Xiao's procedure," a neurosurgical intervention to help spina bifida patients regain bladder and bowel control.
"Xiao confessed to the police that the attacks were revenge, as he believed the two Fangs' exposure of his academic frauds made him fail in his bid to become a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Fang Zhouzi escaped by running faster than his attackers, who threw an unknown substance into his face and tried to hit him with a hammer in the streets near his home in Beijing following a television interview on Aug. 29.
According to Beijing police, Xiao said he hired Dai Jianxiang, 45, and Dai arranged for two younger men, Long Guangxing, 31, and Xu Lichun, 32, to carry out the attacks.
Police also said that they had found hammers and piping used in separate previous attacks on Fang Zhouzi and Fang Xuanchang.
A blog dedicated to Fang Zhouzi's campaigns described the bungled attack as "a comical error," in which Fang ducked a pepper spray blast, sending it directly into the face of a second attacker creeping up behind.
It said according to local media reports, police had diverted considerable resources into finding the attackers.
"They interviewed close to a thousand people in the area and identified a couple of eyewitnesses," the blog said. "They were also able to retrieve surveillance video footage showing a man following Fang Zhouzi right before the attack."
A leading Chinese campaigner against academic fraud and fake remedies, "science cop" Fang Zhouzi—whose real name is Fang Shimin—was sued by Xiao for "defamation" after questioning his credentials in 2005.
His lawyer Peng Jian has spent many years collecting information from Chinese spina bifida patients who have had "Xiao's procedure," trying to encourage them to bring a class action lawsuit for compensation.
"They have published figures that claim an 85 percent success rate," Peng said.
Some patients have told the media that they have suffered disabilities and further pain since the operation.
Du Jie, a spina bifida patient who underwent "Xiao's procedure," said he had believed claims that the operation could restore control of his bowel movements.
"I spent 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,500) so that he could cure me, but there was no improvement whatsoever," said Du, who was still a minor at the time of surgery.
"In fact, there were even after-effects [from the procedure]. During the surgery, they tore a nerve, and to this day my legs have lost all their strength."
Chinese journalists and media are increasingly finding themselves the targets of threats from a number of quarters if their reporting damages vested interests.
Fang Zhouzi recently published an article in the U.S.-based Journal of Urology which concluded that Xiao's procedure was ineffective, and highlighted the cases of patients who had complained about it on his campaign website.
Xiao's procedure is designed to treat neurogenic bladder due to spina bifida, or spinal cord injury, and has been undergoing clinical trials in China, the United States, and a few other countries.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.