Beating Highlights Racial Tensions in China

Earlier today, ChinaSMACK posted a translation of a popular topic on several Chinese forums: “Hui Minority Beats Lanzhou Chengguan Onto Knees Crying“. Their translation is excellent, and we suggest you read it thoroughly, however, direct quotations on this site are our original translations unless otherwise noted.

The short version of the story is this: chengguan (presumably ethnically Han) came into a Hui minority area and started bullying street vendors, as they are wont to do. They threw food and tipped over stalls. A crowd began to gather, and when a few people started to attack the chengguan captain, most of the other police officials realized there were too many people in the crowd for them to deal with and fled, leaving the captain to fend for himself.

The captain was surrounded and beaten repeatedly. Food was thrown at him, and he was cursed by the crowd as well. Apparently several people said he should be beaten to death, and he began to plead for his life, saying, “Big brothers, grandpas, I was wrong, please stop beating me.” [translation via ChinaSMACK]

Apparently, the crowd kept growing and remained large as the original post’s author left the scene, so it’s unclear how the situation was resolved or if it even has been resolved. The situation in and of itself may well speak to some racial tensions as it appears to have been a virtual mob of Hui attacking a Han antagonist, however, it’s difficult to comment on that situation without further information. It may well just be a simple case of pent-up anger at the corruption and violence chengguan are internationally famous for.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the reaction of Chinese netizens to this story. ChinaSMACK translator Joe noted:

Many of the comments on Tianya are bigoted in nature which may highlight the ethnic tensions that exist within China. Negative perceptions exist toward ethnic Hui and Uygurs where they are often stereotyped to be thieves and con artists in China. In addition, many also question the ethnic differences emerge as to why ethnic minorities can resist against authority while most common Chinese submit to it.

Indeed, the Chinese comments are fascinating. Generally speaking, the Chinese internet has nothing but enmity for chengguan. Other recent popular topics about chengguan on the Chinese internet (for example, these two also translated on ChinaSMACK) netizens have compared chengguan to (among other things) the Japanese army and Satan. Here, though, they’re generally much more sympathetic, perhaps because it seems clear the man was beaten quite ruthlessly. And, as Joe reported, they’ve got plenty of bad things to say about the Hui people. Below, we’ve translated a number of the comments from Tianya. They’re not the same comments ChinaSMACK translated, we’re translation only comments with racial undertones (or overtones) here.

Translated Comments:

The worst ethnic groups:

  1. Tibetans
  2. Manchus
  3. Uighurs
  4. Hui people

Haha, there is a reason law in China is enforced differently for minority groups than it is for Han people.

Seeing a whole screen full of white caps [a reference to the white hats many Hui people wear]…perhaps this wasn’t as simple as the chengguan enforcing law through violence.

Lanzhou is a place where Hui people live. Hui people are indeed treated differently.

I still have doubts, the indomitable chengguan could really lose? Looking again, their opponents are the ‘white cap gang’. I suddenly realize I will support the chengguan this one time.

Minority groups are a little terrifying…Xinjiang people sell cakes, Hui people sell snacks…Speaking objectively, the government should be very strict in controlling them.

A crowd of white-capped pigs. Sooner or later we’ll kill you all off.

He ran into a savage/uncivilized ethnic group.

Dirty muslims vs. the Lanzhou chengguan

The Hui people and chengguan, two of our nations disasters! It’s dog fighting dog, just let them bite each other! The chengguan are all bandits, the Hui are all wild animals!

[In response to the above comment] You’re not even as good as a dog!

I’m a Han person. A brainwashed-for-thousands-of-years Han.

Ignorant, savage muslim heretics and shameless savage chengguan together!

[In response to the above comment] Please respect the beliefs of others.

…As to those of you talking about ‘the problem of ethnic minorities’, I have grown up with many minority friends and classmates, including Hui people, and except for their religios beliefs there is no difference between then and us Han people. They took eat, wear clothes, look for a better life, they’re not constantly restraining themselves to keep from stirring up trouble. They are all just common people, don’t turn this into some huge generalizing thing. Yes, some minority people from remote regions have low levels of education and skills, but isn’t that a universal phenomenon in all undeveloped areas? That this situation exists has nothing to do with race/ethnicity, if you think about it. People just strive to feed and support themselves, that’s it.

Regardless of what race they are, if they refuse to be slaves then they are heroes! I admire them.

Ethnic minorities are pretty good, eh? Of course, claiming independence would be unacceptable. Chengguan are dogs!

Our Thoughts

The above is a fairly good representation of the comments that address issues of ethnicity directly on Tianya, although there are so many that we barely made it halfway through the first page before deciding translating too many more would just clutter things up.

As you can see, there’s an interesting mix of overt racism and open-minded thinking. We opted not to translate many of the subtler comments, but they are more or less the same: some people support the chengguan and imply that they dislike Hui, some people curse the chengguan in a way that implies support for the Hui, perhaps, but it’s difficult to tell.

Some people will recall that we’ve covered issues of race in China here before, with rather explosive results, so let me say one thing very clearly: I am not in any way suggesting that all Chinese people are racist. Nor am I trying to suggest there aren’t racial tensions in America, however, this is a blog about China.

What I am suggesting, and what I was suggesting last time, too, is that this is an issue that should be discussed more openly in China before it leads to (more?) actual violence. From the comments translated above, as well as the comments on ChinaSMACK, it’s obvious that some people have gotten the message about equality, but it’s equally obvious that a lot of people haven’t. That strikes me as dangerous.

For an example of just how dangerous it can be, one need look no further than the riots that occurred in Tibet last year. Whatever you believe about how they started and ended, it’s difficult to deny that ethnic violence did occur, probably in large part because of frustration among Tibetans who feel they aren’t being treated fairly. James Miles, the only Western reporter in Lhasa at the time of the riots, described what he saw wandering around the city, temporarily forgotten by his handlers in the chaos:

What I saw was calculated targeted violence against an ethnic group, or I should say two ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Han Chinese living in Lhasa, but also members of the Muslim Hui minority in Lhasa. And the Huis in Lhasa control much of the meat industry in the city. Those two groups were singled out by ethnic Tibetans. They marked those businesses that they knew to be Tibetan owned with white traditional scarves. Those businesses were left intact. Almost every single other across a wide swathe of the city, not only in the old Tibetan quarter, but also beyond it in areas dominated by the ethnic Han Chinese. Almost every other business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into, the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned. It was an extraordinary outpouring of ethnic violence of a most unpleasant nature to watch, which surprised some Tibetans watching it. So they themselves were taken aback at the extent of what they saw. And it was not just targeted against property either. Of course many ethnic Han Chinese and Huis fled as soon as this broke out. But those who were caught in the early stages of it were themselves targeted. Stones thrown at them. At one point, I saw them throwing stones at a boy of maybe around 10 years old perhaps cycling along the street. I in fact walked out in front of them and said stop. It was a remarkable explosion of simmering ethnic grievances in the city.

Whether you want One China or a Free Tibet, whether you support or condemn the beating of chengguan, and frankly, whether or not you’re racist, I think everyone can agree that ethnic violence isn’t in the best interests of anyone. It serves neither the Chinese government nor the Chinese people, and by Chinese people, I mean all of them, not just Han. Feudal attitudes about ethnic minorities (and foreigners) might seem harmless or irrelevant when many Chinese can go their entire lives without confronting anyone very different from themselves. Sometimes, they might even be harmless, but is it really worth it to take that chance?

And anyway, is it so bad a thing to admit that there is racism in China and begin taking some steps to deal with it?

Given his willingness to engage in reasoned debate the last time we talked about racism here, we’ve also sent this topic to popular Chinese blogger hecaitou for his comments. If he responds, we’ll add his response here, or perhaps make a new post.

0 thoughts on “Beating Highlights Racial Tensions in China”

  1. How do you know this was targeted ethnic violence? Chengguan regularly beat street vendors across China regardless of race. It seems like you’re reaching for the ethnic violence angle without clear facts.


  2. this is going to get some comments…
    “Wei people” -in the first translated comment, shouldn’t that be Uighur- i.e. 维吾尔?


  3. @ Int: Read the post more carefully. I never said it was targeted ethnic violence. What I said was “The situation in and of itself may well speak to some racial tensions as it appears to have been a virtual mob of Hui attacking a Han antagonist, however, it’s difficult to comment on that situation without further information.”

    Meaning, there may (note the word may) have been some racial undertones, but it’s impossible to know without more info than is contained in the original post.

    @ JL, yup, that’s just me being lazy, thanks for catching it.


  4. “The worst ethnic groups:

    1. Tibetans
    2. Manchus
    3. Uighurs
    4. Hui people”

    Geez, who doesn’t like Manchus? I’m actually a bit surprised to hear that there are significant Han-Manchu tensions. I thought they were even better assimilated than the Huis.


  5. @ Otto: Yeah, I was pretty shocked to see that too, actually. I guess maybe it depends where you are. Because, having lived in Harbin (which has plenty of Han and Manchus), I have to say, I never noticed any racial issues whatsoever.


  6. I think the note about admitting to racism in China may be related to a much more systemic problem throughout Chinese society (if you could call it a problem. After all, I’m just a stupid foreigner) where people are more worried about the appearance of the society rather than actually solving serious problems within it. I’m essentially regurgitating what someone else said in the Ai Weiwei post earlier before it was derailed by fenqing-ing.

    As a note about Han racism toward the Hui, Kai’s comment on ChinaSMACK was pretty good at describing the overall situation. But I’ll let him post that if he decides to, since I’ve seen him comment on here before.


  7. C. Custer:
    “Read the post more carefully. I never said it was targeted ethnic violence.”
    “Meaning, there may (note the word may) have been some racial undertones, but it’s impossible to know without more info than is contained in the original post.”

    I agree it’s hard to know but you seem sure as your title says “Beatings Highlight Racial Tensions in China” which implies it was a racial clash in addition to – “virtual mob of Hui attacking a Han antagonist” and “chengguan (presumably ethnically Han) came into a Hui minority area and started bullying street vendors”, which suggests to me you’re alluding towards the fact this is directed ethnic violence. However looking at the pictures on Chinasmack, if the white caps represent Hui then I would say this is a very mixed crowd of people which to me doesn’t seem to imply racial tensions. Regardless I agree there’s not much to go on.


  8. @ Int: Yeah, I agree the title does sort of lead in that direction, I hadn’t thought of that. Also, I apologize for the overly obnoxious tone of my original post directed at you. I was still all exasperated from explaining the same thing to our local fenqing 50 times earlier this afternoon, in any event, I think the tone is really sort of uncalled-for. So sorry about that.


  9. My points
    I do not think it is appropriate to describe this as “racial tension”. Because Hui and Han are basically the same race. The differences between them are more about religion.
    There are specific expressions in Chinese related to the form of prejudice and discrimination you termed as “racism”, and they are widely acknowledged and used in Chinese sphere.

    For example
    地域歧视(di yu qi shi)–discrimination based on where people comes from. Below is a special report on this topic in Sohu.
    This word is usually used to describe discrimination against migrant workers, Henan people, etc. But it also applies to the siutation here.

    another one, more relevant to the topic, is 民族歧视 or 民族矛盾(min zu qi shi or min zu mao dun)–discrimination based on ethnic group, tensions between ethnic groups. Advocating such discrimination is actully a criminal offence under Chinese law and could get someone in jail up to 3 years.
    When you attempt to register an account on Chinese internet forum, the contract almost always has provisions like this
    “The user is responsible for what he or she posted and published online community. No users should publish, transfer, posted anything that contains the following information, the admin reserve the right do delete such things without informing the user”
    ”(4) Advocate ethnical hatred,discrimination and harmful to ethnical unity“

    And there are examples how such post could be dealt with. For example, in here
    The user was banned for a month for posting somthing that advocate Han chauvinism, the full post was here
    The ban cited it was based on a complain for “maliciously stir up ethnical tension”

    This word(民族矛盾min zu mao dun) is also usually used to decribe Sino-Japanese relation, espcially during WWII and also Han-Minority tensions.

    Therefore, overall, I think it is misleading to call such issues as racism, as it neither correspond to how Chinese express to issue, nor does we have two race involved in here.

    Of course, I agree to call the discrimination toward people from Africa racism, or toward white people. But since in Chinese vocabulary, Han, Korean, Japanese, Manchu, Tibetan, Hui all belong to the same race, it is better to use a more accruate word.


  10. Well I personally know a couple of white Americans who were beaten or bullied in their childhood by blacks. So I guess for them it must have felt the same way some Han people feel about some minorities (not all of them of course, Yao, Miao, Bai, Tujia, etc. people are just non-violent civilized people, unlike some of the most obvious groups listed on this blog).

    And yet you seldom see reports in the western media about such beatings of white kids by black or hispanic bullies. It’s always the rantings by Al Sharpton.


  11. I feel the need to clarify something. I didn’t imply some ethnic groups in China were barbarians. If it felt that way, it must have been because I was typing in English, not my first language (it is a pretty convenient excuse sometimes, isn’t it? But anyway, I didn’t mean it).

    And I also didn’t say only racism against white people in the US or the Hans in China exists. Racism against minorites has been discussed to death, I’m just pointing out the other side of the moon since it’s in line with the blog here.


  12. Unfortunately, this will probably only result in increased clampdowns by “security forces” and police in Hui communities, similar to what we saw in Tibet and Xinjiang last year. A couple interesting comments from ChinaSmack (sorry, your comments are interesting too but I think they all speak for themselves already):

    “Of course he got beaten, those peddlers are all ethnic minorities. Chengguan can’t do anything about ethnic minorities.” – What do you think he means when he says the Chengguan can’t do anything about ethnic minorities?

    “Don’t tell me that you need to have these peddlers put their stands in front of your door to realize the necessity for Chengguan.Keep cursing, you Nazis, if you say Chengguan are dogs, then you are not worth dogshit! Support Chengguan!!” – While I think he sort of makes a point here (sometimes those street sellers can be a bit annoying, I doubt it applies in this case. I’m pretty sure the area must have been a dominant Hui minority, and even if they had a problem with the peddlers, I highly doubt they’d call in the police to take care of the incident.


  13. One more thing

    If you search 地域贴 in Tianya zatan, you can find lots of posts about this topic, I mean, di yu qi shi(地域歧视),or more precisely, posts against them


  14. @ A Chinese: Yes, I’m aware that if we were speaking in Chinese, Chinese people wouldn’t consider this a 种族 problem. However, this blog is in English, and most of my readers are foreigners, so I’m going to use the term that best describes the situation to them.

    Additionally, I think the different-terms thing is all just a convenient semantics game anyway. Bigotry and hatred are bigotry and hatred, no matter what you call them.

    I’m also curious where you would draw the dividing line between “races”. For example, if Han and Hui are the same race, what about Han and Uighur?


  15. There are a bunch of interesting things here. One is that, like in many other countries, minorities (whether “ethnic” or “racial” or “place of origin” or otherwise) are thought to be troublesome and crude… but are also admired for their guts in being troublesome. You see that more eloquently in “Wolf Totem”: the Mongols are portrayed as fierce and as sticking up for themselves, unlike the meek, easily bossed-around Han.

    Another interesting thing is how middle class people (presumably they are middle class if they are referring to the “lower” orders as a separate group) have this conflicted attitude, where they hate the police or chengguan beating up on the poor but also know that the authorities are all that stand between them and the rough and tumble of the rest of the country. Again, not so different from the U.S. or anywhere, else….


  16. @ C. Custer
    I agree with you that “bigotry and hatred are bigotry and hatred, no matter what you call them. ” , further more, I think Chinese should do more to address these issues.

    But when we talk about race, even in English, there is a clear distinction between race and ethnic groups, it is not merely a semantics game.

    I just checked this Wiki article and its source about how American Federal government consider this issue. Here is a definition from US census bureau
    The racial classifications used by the Census Bureau listed “White,Black ,American Indian,Asian,Native Hawaiian,Some other race(like Hispanic),Two or more races”.

    Also, according to that wiki article, “The 2010 US Census will have changes designed to more clearly distinguish the Hispanic ethnicity as not being a race”

    The source of this quote was traced to “Waite, Preston. US Census Bureau. “2010 Decennial Census Program., slide 13.”

    On the other hand, ethnicity group is generally thought as a sub-group of race, more cultural and national based. For example, White-Irish,White-German,White-Scottish, White-French etc.

    Uighur is a Turkic peoples with distinctive culture and language。 And I think there are basis for us to classify them as White (in the definition of US census bureau, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab are considered as White), so as Russian in China(俄罗斯族). So if there were conflict between Han and Uighur, Russian, there is indeed some racial elements involved.

    However, if we were to look into these conflicts, I doubt if they were more of racial nature or religious nature. I mean, when I look at these comments on Chinese forum, I do not think Han Chinese hate Uighur or Russian because they are White. It has more to do with the ignorance on Han’s side, of their religion, violence against Han( be it imaged or real) and culture habit. These sort of tension are not so dissimiliar compare to the one between English and Irish, it is real and could lead to serious consequence, yet it is just not racial tension.


  17. Interesting point, but I would say that dislike directed at a specific racial/ethnic group is always racism, even when that dislike stems from cultural issues.

    Ignorance about the religion, culture, habits, etc. of a group of people lies at the root of pretty much all racism, I think. Even though it isn’t fundamentally racial it can, and does, frequently lead to racial tension, which I think is what happened here (in the comments online I mean, not the incident itself, the headline bit about “racial” is meant to refer to the comments). Whether these feelings come from ignorance about religion or not, the fact is many of these comments are not about religion, they are about the Hui people. Whether they were motivated by religion or not is irrelevant, they’re racist one way or the other.

    Especially in these comments, the repeated comparisons between Hui people and “savages”/”wild animals” really suggests racial to me.


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