Many Han Chinese don’t mind the gulag for their Uighur neighbours

Many Han Chinese don’t mind the gulag for their Uighur neighbours

  • Yet it will aggravate ethnic strife for years to come

The district of Erdaoqiao in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, looks very similar to many urban areas of China. Its streets are filled with luxury cars competing for space with frantic food-delivery scooters. Many buildings are new, built with steel, glass and cookie-cutter uniformity.

No visible evidence remains of the riots here in July 2009, the country’s bloodiest ethnic clashes in decades. They involved battles between Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim group indigenous to Xinjiang, and ethnic-Han Chinese who make up more than 90% of China’s population. The spark was a protest by Uighurs against the killing of two Uighur factory-workers by a mob in southern China. Of more than 200 people who were killed on the first day of the violence in Erdaoqiao and other areas of Urumqi, many were Han. Later, Han crowds gathered in the streets, hungry for revenge. The city stewed for days in a miasma of anger and fear.