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When Han, Uighurs duked it out in Dorm 6

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Getting an interview this week with Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, the site of a deadly clash Sunday with ethnic Han Chinese, is nearly impossible – as the Monitor’s Beijing Bureau Chief Peter Ford noted earlier this week.

But a Monitor visit to the central Chinese city of Xian in the wake of a 2001 riot between ethnic Chinese and Uighur university students sheds light on longstanding issues behind Sunday’s violence, including Han attitudes and Uighur humiliation.

The campus atmosphere was electric a week later. Police presence was high. But a reporter entered after dark, around 10 p.m., on the assumption that students did not go to bed that early, which proved true on two successive nights.

A different riot, blow-by-blow
The riot: Uighur students at Changan University were playing music loudly in a courtyard. They later admitted it was too loud. A Han student threw a bottle out a window that hit a Uighur, who started bleeding. The young man, from Dorm 5, ran into Dorm 6, to confront the bottle thrower.

Instantly, the situation escalated. One of the great shocks, Uighurs later said, was the total mobilization against them by Han students. The Uighur that went into Dorm 6, who went by the nom de plume of “Captain,” was immediately driven back to Dorm 5 – where 40 Uighurs locked themselves in a series of rooms on the first floor.

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