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Fight over snack in China lights up blogosphere

Controversy over how police handled a fight between ethnic minority snack vendors and a Han Chinese costumer went viral in China, highlighting discontent with 'leniency' for minorities. 

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Covers of Chinese magazines are displayed in a street in Beijing, Nov. 12. A fight over the price of a snack on an anonymous street in central China has triggered a fireball of angry comment in the Chinese blogosphere.

Vincent Yu/AP/File

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A banal dispute over the price of a snack on an anonymous street in central China has triggered a fireball of angry comment in the Chinese blogosphere, revealing deep and widespread resentment at the way Beijing treats ethnic minorities under its rule.

But not because the authorities are too harsh on Tibetans and Uighurs, as an outsider might think: The overwhelming majority of comments blame government policy for being too sympathetic to them.

The incident highlights a vast gulf between foreign and Chinese views of official ethnic policy in a country where Tibetans and Uighurs complain about gross mistreatment, but many members of the majority Han ethnic group claim that it is they who suffer reverse discrimination.

Most foreign observers, and many ethnic minority members in China, say that the policies Beijing claims are designed to promote minority rights and living standards are merely a façade, and that officials pay only lip service to autonomy.

Nothing illustrated that argument better than the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when the government proudly presented representatives of China’s 56 ethnic groups, all in folk costumes – and who all turned out to be Han actors and actresses.

But some prominent Han intellectuals are arguing that government policies benefiting minorities are misguided and should be scrapped.

The fight over nutcake

The current storm of commentary, which has generated more than 2.5 million blog posts on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social networking platform, began when the police in Yueyang, a city in Hunan Province, announced on Weibo that a fight had got out of hand on Monday.

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