A minor riot had ensued after an altercation between Uighur venders of nutcake (a sticky nougat-like confection) and a Han customer, it seemed. The police said they had compensated the Uighurs for the loss of their nutcake, sent them back to Xinjiang, their majority-Muslim home province in the far west of China, (see map) and arrested one of their (Han) assailants.
This apparently unequal treatment drew resentful attention to a 30-year-old official government policy – unevenly applied – to treat minority lawbreakers with more leniency than their Han counterparts.
“The police have to act in a more gingerly fashion with regard to minorities, especially Uighurs,” says Barry Sautman, an expert on China’s ethnic policies at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology.
The goal of that policy, Professor Sautman says, is “better relations between ethnic minorities and the state, and it probably has lessened the antagonism among some members of minority groups toward the state.”
But the policy has provoked almost universal criticism from the bloggers who made the Yueyang incident the top trending issue on Weibo on Tuesday.
“Some law enforcement bureaus indulge Uyghur criminals and such behavior damages the interests of the majority,” wrote a blogger called Cao Junniu, whose post was typical of thousands of others. “Minority ethnic protection should be curbed.”