Jailed Australian teacher Carl Mather with daughter Doreen. Photo: Peter Cox
Carl Mather lifted his four-year-old girl into his large tattooed forearms as he walked along the corridor of his Nanjing apartment and peered through the eye hole in the door.
The 53-year-old Australian teacher opened it to a man he knew, Gao Long, but three others sprang from hiding places and forced their way in.
They were demanding to see his wife, Xie Qun, in a language he couldn't understand, and he feared they would abduct their daughter for leverage in an ongoing dispute over Ms Xie's candy trading business.
He let his screaming daughter down to run to her grandmother while the biggest of the intruders - a man with extensive assault convictions - pushed against his throat and the others beat his upper body.
In desperation he ran to pick up a stick - but they grabbed it from him - and then a kitchen knife.
Since November, Mr Mather has spent his days in a small Chinese prison cell, shared with 15 men, while the assailants he reported to police have never been investigated.
"The local police hate us because we are in the way of making more money," Mr Mather's wife, Ms Xie, told Fairfax Media.
The jailing of another Australian has raised new questions about the risks of doing business in China, just as Prime Minister Julia Gillard prepares to lead up to a dozen top corporate leaders to a Chinese tropical island resort.
The high-powered delegation will attend next weekend's Bo'ao Forum for Asia, which has grown in standing as the size of the Chinese economy approaches that of the United States.
China buys a greater share of Australia's exports than any other developed nation. But this year's forum is taking place amid concerns of a deteriorating Chinese legal environment coupled with rising nationalism and protectionism.
The world's second-largest company, Apple, is currently the subject of a systematic assault by state propaganda outlets for alleged ''arrogance'' indealings with Chinese consumers. A series of Australian entrepreneurs have paid a more personal price.
Fairfax Media has previously revealed a series of murky prosecutions of Australians citizens, beginning with the 2009 arrest of Rio Tinto iron ore executive Stern Hu, that appear to have been linked to Chinese partners attempting to secure commercial advantages.
While court evidence later demonstrated that Mr Hu took bribes, the cases of college educator Charlotte Chou, travel entrepreneur Matthew Ng and surgeon Du Zuying are less clear cut.
Last month, Mr Mather was added to the list when he was quietly sentenced to one year's jail followed by deportation. He was convicted of assault after being found guilty of inflicting a knife injury on one of the intruders and injuring the finger of another when it was jammed in the door.
Evidence in her husband's favour never made it to court, Ms Xie said, while evidence against him was accepted but not available for scrutiny.
She said her husband's case was analogous to those of Mr Hu, Ms Chou, Mr Ng and Dr Zu except for one thing: her husband is not ethnically Chinese.
She said Mr Mather had been a ''star'' when he arrived in Nanjing a decade ago and the English teacher generously gave his time to throngs of eager students at ''English Corner'' near Nanjing University. But since the 2008 Beijing Olympics his foreign status had made him a target.
''The prosecutor wanted to punish a Westerner to show that Chinese people have already stood up'' said Ms Xie, noting how he quoted Chairman Mao to that effect in his closing address.
Ms Xie said her family's ordeal should serve as a warning for the Australian business leaders who are heading to meet Ms Gillard's entourage at Bo'ao.
''If they want to get money out of business people they will do it and nothing can stop them,'' she said.
Gao Long, who led the intrusion into Mr Mather's apartment, declined to answer questions. ''Ask the prosecutor and judge,'' he said.
Tao Jiayong, who had pushed against Mr Mather's throat, said the court had told him to reject interview requests. If past events serve as a guide, the Bo'ao forum will feature lengthy paeans to Chinese success but little criticism.
James McGregor, a prominent adviser and author who has been observing business in China for 25 years, said the gap between executives' public demonstrations of fealty and on-the-ground experiences was explained by China's enormous opportunities for profit and its capacity for retribution.
''People I meet with are mostly very clear on the opportunities and the difficulties but when they're in public they only talk about opportunities,'' said Mr McGregor, author of One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Line of Doing Business in China.
''And I tell you, in private I've never seen the level of negativity towards China that there is right now in the business community,''he said.
■With Julia Gillard due in China on Friday, Australia's uncertain relationship with the regional superpower will come under renewed scrutiny. This is the first of a series examining the personal perils that impede closer business ties.