A Chinese ‘doctor’ named Hu Wanlin, imprisoned in 1999 for illegally practising medicine, was arrested again recently after a 23-year-old college graduate died after drinking a poisonous herbal soup the ex-prisoner prescribed during a “medical seminar” in Henan province, Beijing News reported on Thursday.
An autopsy of the victim, avid acupuncture practitioner Yun Xuyang described by his family as a staunch believer in Chinese medicine, showed he had consumed liquid containing highly-toxic sodium sulphate (the sodium salt of sulfuric acid) before his death. Hu, 64, was subsequently charged with “practicing medicine illegally,” according to police in Luoyang.
The tragedy sheds light on the gullible nature of the public in China when it comes to phony medical practices carried out by self-proclaimed doctors with “supernatural healing powers”.
In the 1990s Hu, who only completed education to primary school level, was portrayed as such a ‘divine’ doctor and thousands sought his medical help. Hu also claimed to have found cures for AIDS and cancer. He continued to treat his patients with “miracle water” containing high doses of sodium sulphate in the years leading up to his arrest.
More than 140 people are believed to have died as a result of his “treatment”.
Hu was convicted and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2000.
His sentence was reduced, however, and he was released in 2011, possibly due to “positive behaviour” according to a CCTV report aired on Thursday. 
Prison did not lead Hu to repent. He had apparently gone back to his old practices after his release, working with “students” to arrange “seminars” in Henan.
Yun, who had been running a successful acupuncture clinic and was eager to hone his skills, was contacted by Hu’s students in August and asked to participate in the medical seminar, the Beijing News reported.
Yun was told Hu could “treat all sorts of illnesses”, and could cure cancer “in a matter of days”.
Yun, however, lapsed into a coma after drinking Hu’s herbal soup as part of a “detox treatment” and later died. Patients were supposed to vomit and “discharge” the toxins in their body as part of the procedure, according to Hu.
Hu and his associates were arrested on October 1 on charges of “practising medicine illegally,” but Yun’s relatives argued he be charged with “homicide”, since he was familiar with the hazards of consuming sodium sulphate.
Reports of Hu’s arrest shocked Chinese bloggers. Many of whom couldn’t understand how he was able to deceive someone as highly educated as Yun.
“Hu should spend the rest of his life in jail,” one commented.
He Ying, a genuine Chinese medicine practitioner in Henan, told the local Dahe Daily she found Hu’s approach puzzling.
“Consuming sodium sulphate could easily destroy a healthy person, let alone a sick patient,” she said.
An effective detox programme could simply consist of eating fruit and vegetables, Ying suggested.
Despite the recent downfall of several so-called ‘doctors’, including the infamous Qigong master Wang Lin,  discussion on the relative merits of Chinese versus Western medicine continues to brew in the mainland.
Eric Chong, deputy secretary general at Beijing-based China Hospital Association, said limited medical resources in the mainland means seeking treatment in traditional hospitals can be expensive and frustrating for patients. Meanwhile, the Chinese tend to believe in "secret prescriptions" with unrealistic promises instead of scientific prognosis given by Western medicine practitioners, he said. These factors have made it easier for crooks like Hu to deceive more people, chong said.
"These phony doctors might be clueless about medicine or science, but their understanding of the Chinese people's mentality is perfect," Chong said.