TIME China

China Charges Uighur Scholar Ilham Tohti With ‘Separatism’

Ilham Tohti
Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Uighur ethnic minority, speaks during an interview at his home in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2013 Andy Wong—AP

The Beijing-based professor of economics is a moderate but determined critic of China's treatment of ethnic minorities

Prominent Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was charged by Chinese authorities with “separatism” on Wednesday. The long-expected announcement came amid a period of violent unrest in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The Beijing-based professor of economics is a moderate but determined critic of China’s treatment of ethnic minority groups. He has been held since January, but was not allowed to see his lawyer until June. His lawyer, Li Fangping, only heard about the charges when the local government posted the news online, the Guardian reports.

Charges against Tohti come at a particularly sensitive time. This week alone, dozens were killed or injured in violence outside the ancient city of Kashgar. Beijing blamed the unrest on Uighur extremists, but human-rights groups claim Chinese authorities exaggerate terrorist ties in order to justify their own use of force. On Wednesday, an imam in the city of Kashgar, who was frequently quoted by state media as praising the Communist Party and denouncing terrorism, was reportedly stabbed to death.

Chinese authorities allege that Tohti used a website to, among other things, “spread separatist thinking,” and accuse him of urging his students to engage in violent struggle — charges at odds with his extensive body of writing and work. Rights groups say the charges amount to a political witch hunt, and show Beijing’s unwillingness to tolerate even the most moderate and measured criticism.

PEN American Center, which awarded Tohti the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award earlier this year, condemned the indictment in a statement, saying that he “has worked within the country’s laws to promote equal rights for all of China’s citizens, and to encourage exchange and understanding between different ethnic groups.”

The charge against Tohti will almost certainly lead to conviction and, potentially, the death penalty.

TIME

China: Dozens Dead or Injured in Xinjiang ‘Terror,’ but Facts Are Few and Far Between

A Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi
A Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an antiterrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, China's Xinjiang region, on May 23, 2014 Stringer China—Reuters

Two vastly different accounts have emerged about the incident, which occurred on the first day of the ‘Id al-Fitr festival

Some time on Monday, in a small town near China’s northwest frontier, dozens of people were injured or lost their lives. Two days later, we do not know who died, how they were killed or what sparked the violence. And with the area effectively sealed off by Chinese security forces, and the Internet up and down across the area, it is possible we never really will.

Two vastly different accounts have emerged about the incident, which occurred on the first day of the ‘Id al-Fitr festival, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Chinese state media reported that dozens of civilians were killed or injured in a premeditated terrorist attack in Shache county (or Yarkand in the Uighur language). The news, which was not released until more than 24 hours after the incident, was cast as evidence of organized terrorism by ethnic Uighur extremists. Their account suggests that knife-wielding mobs went on a rampage after officials discovered some explosives and foiled a terrorist plot that may or may not have been timed to coincide with a commodity fair.

An account by the nonprofit Radio Free Asia (RFA) paints an altogether different picture. Reporters for the outlet’s Uighur-language news service say dozens of “knife- and ax-wielding” ethnic Uighurs were shot by police in a riot sparked by restrictions during Ramadan. “There has been a lot of pent-up frustration over house-to-house searches and checking on headscarves [worn by Uighur women] during this Ramadan,” Alim Adurshit, a local official, told RFA. The report also mentioned the extrajudicial killing of a Uighur family — an incident that has not been reported by Chinese state press and that TIME has not independently confirmed.

The dueling narratives point to the challenge of figuring out what, exactly, is happening in China’s vast and restless northwest. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where the incident took place, is contested space. It is both claimed as the homeland of the mostly Muslim, Turkic Uighur people, and also as Chinese territory. In recent years, the area has seethed with unrest attributed, depending on whom you ask, to Islamic terrorism, separatism or heavy-handed repression by the state. For years now, a small minority has fought against the government, usually by targeting symbols of state power, including police stations and transport hubs.

The past year has been particularly bloody. In October, an SUV plowed through crowds of tourists in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five — including three inside the vehicle — and injuring dozens. Chinese authorities said the vehicle was driven by ethnic Uighurs, but revealed little else. In March, a group of knife-wielding attackers slashed and stabbed their way through a train station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, killing 29. The government blamed that incident, and two subsequent attacks in the regional capital, Urumqi, on separatists from Xinjiang.

Beijing has responded by doubling down on already aggressive security measures and their campaign of forced cultural integration. Across the region, town squares are now patrolled by armed security personnel in riot gear, and villages are sealed off by police checkpoints. Ethnic Uighurs are stopped and searched. Meanwhile, the government has stepped up limits on religious practice by, for instance, putting age restrictions on mosque visits and banning students and government workers from fasting during Ramadan.

In the context of this division and distrust, it makes sense that there are competing claims. The trouble is, China prevents outsiders from gathering information on their own. The foreign press corps is, by virtue of China’s rules, based far from Xinjiang, primarily in the Han-majority cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Travel to Xinjiang, while not officially forbidden, is effectively restricted. When I visited Urumqi and Hotan in late May, security personnel harassed my Chinese colleague, questioned me, followed our movements and stopped us from traveling to the city of Kashgar.

The ruling Communist Party’s powers of information control are also a factor. On a good day, China’s Great Firewall makes it difficult for citizens to share information that censors might consider politically sensitive; other days, it is impossible. Following the violent suppression of the 2009 riots in Urumqi, the government effectively turned off the region’s Internet for nine months. There are reports the web is off and on again now, which may help explain why so little has emerged in terms of firsthand accounts or photographic evidence.

Overseas-based Uighur groups say until there is transparency, the public should not trust the state’s account. “China does not want the world to know what occurred on Monday,” said Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association, in a statement. “As little is known of the circumstances of their killing, due to tight restrictions on information, UAA seeks an open investigation into the incident and the loss of dozens of lives.”

With every instance of violence, that looks less likely to happen.

TIME China

China Jails 32 People for Online Terror Charges

A man plays a computer game at an internet cafe in Beijing
A man plays a computer game at an internet cafe in Beijing May 9, 2014. Courts in Xinjiang on Friday sentenced 32 persons to prison for downloading and spreading violent Internet content. Kim Kyung Hoon—Reuters

The sentencing is part of efforts to scour and scrub the Internet for material promoting religious warfare or teaching bomb-making methods that Chinese authorities say have fueled recent attacks.

(BEIJING) — Courts in a restive region of western China sentenced 32 people to prison, three of them for life, for downloading and spreading violent Internet content that authorities have blamed for inspiring a recent string of deadly attacks, state media said Friday.

The other 29 people were handed sentences ranging from four to 15 years’ imprisonment by seven courts in the region on Thursday, according to state broadcaster CCTV and the region’s official newspaper, the Xinjiang Daily.

The sentencing is part of efforts to scour and scrub the Internet for material promoting religious warfare or teaching bomb-making methods that Chinese authorities say have fueled recent attacks.

Escalating unrest in the Xinjiang region, home to China’s Turkic Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) ethnic minority who want more autonomy from Beijing, has posed a serious challenge to the administration of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in his first 20 months in power. In May, a market bombing killed 43 people in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

The attacks, which have killed dozens of people this year, prompted Beijing to launch an expansive security crackdown in the region, arresting several hundred people and sentencing scores to prison and in some cases to death.

Chinese state media have said that virtually all those taking part in recent attacks have been exposed to extremist content online. It said Xinjiang separatists have recently flooded the Web with such material, raising the challenge to authorities and the risk of further attacks.

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

TIME Asia

China Arrests 380 in First Month of Yearlong Antiterrorism Campaign

China Terrorism Crackdown
Armed paramilitary policemen ride on a truck during an antiterrorism oath-taking rally at the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, China, on May 23, 2014 AP

In general, the names of those arrested are not released, and they are likely to face trial in secret

China has arrested at least 380 people in its first month of a yearlong campaign against terrorism, state-run media said on Monday.

The crackdown was triggered by a suicide attack blamed on Islamic militants that left 39 people dead in the restive western province of Xinjiang in May.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement that the campaign to avert the spread of religious radicalism would last until June 2015, “With Xinjiang as the center, and with cooperation from other provinces.”

China Central Television (CCTV) stated that the campaign began with the disbanding of 32 terrorist groups in the western province, confirming Beijing’s promise that “terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished,” AFP reported.

Along with arrests that concentrated on suspected militants in Xinjiang but spread throughout the country, police also seized 264 devices that could discharge 3.15 tons of explosives, CCTV reported.

Most of the violence in Xinjiang apparently stems from rising tensions between the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority and majority Han Chinese migrants. Human-rights groups also blame increasing economic disparity and religious discrimination against the Uighurs, although Beijing claims that the government has helped improve the local economy and infrastructure.

[AFP]

TIME

The Capital of China’s Xinjiang Region Is In Lockdown After a Deadly Blast

Chinese police say an explosion has killed at least 31 people in Urumqi, the capital of China's restive northwest Xinjiang region. This comes just weeks after a bomb and knife attack at the city's rail station was blamed on extremists from the region's mostly Muslim Uighur community

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Urumqi does not want for cops. The capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in China’s far northwest, is well-guarded. Riot trucks cruise city streets. Armed police stand vigil over Friday prayers. And following a deadly attack last month, the city’s railway station feels like a fortress. But none of this, it seems, has stopped the violence.

At around 7:50 a.m. Thursday two “cross-country” vehicles collided on a street near Renmin Park, about 4km from the city’s main square, sending fire and smoke shooting into the sky, according to state media reports. Witnesses told local press they heard a series of explosions and saw blazing plumes stretching one-story high. Photographs from the scene show shattered market stalls, toppled piles of produce, and bodies lining the road. Police say at least 31 people were killed.

The explosion hit the city at what is usually a quiet, restful time. China officially has one time zone, a fact that is at odds with longitudinal realities. To account for this, people in Xinjiang use both “Beijing time” and “Xinjiang time,” which is two hours behind. Ten to eight in the morning, Beijing time, is effectively 5:50 a.m. to the locals. At this hour, it’s usually only shopkeepers and the elderly who are milling about.

The early-morning chaos comes just weeks after a brutal and bloody attack at an Urumqi railway station. On April 30, a bomb and knife attack at the city’s southern train terminal left three dead — two of them attackers — and 79 injured. Several people have since been arrested in connection with that attack. Although few details have been released, authorities say they were motivated by extremism.

It will probably be days or weeks before we know what exactly happened. The authorities keep a tight lid on information about potentially sensitive subjects, and few subjects are more sensitive right now than the specter of unrest, or terrorism, in Xinjiang.

The vast homeland of the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Uighur people has seen a rise in violence in recent years attributed, depending on who you ask, to religious extremism, separatism, or as a reaction to forceful religious and social oppression by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Many Uighurs feel overwhelmed by the pace of immigration to Xinjiang of China’s ethnic Han majority, with Urumqi now a majority Han city.

For decades, a small minority has waged a campaign against the Chinese government, usually targeting symbols of state power in Xinjiang, including government buildings and police stations.

The violence seems to be spreading. Last fall, a truck plowed through crowds of tourists in Beijing’s Tiananmen square, killing two and injuring dozens. Chinese authorities said the vehicle was driven by Uighur separatists, although few details have been released about the assailants — a man, his wife and his mother. In March, a group of knife-wielding attackers slashed and stabbed their way through a train station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, killing 29. Chinese authorities identified the group as separatists from Xinjiang.

All this has prompted the ruling Chinese Communist Party to tighten its already firm hold on the territory. In a visit to Xinjiang last month, President Xi Jinping promised a “strike first” policy and called police officers, who are disproportionately Han Chinese, the “fists and daggers” in the country’s fight against terrorism and separatism. “Sweat more in peacetime to bleed less in wartime,” he reportedly advised.

By last weekend, the police were omnipresent. In Hotan, a dusty city in Xinjiang’s southwest, there were police trucks on each block of the city’s center. Roads to outlying towns and villages were blocked by checkpoints. In the otherwise laid-back and leafy capital, life continues apace, albeit in the presence of armed men. At Urumqi’s southern railway station — which is itself flanked by police stations — men with automatic weapons meet passengers at the ticket gate.

The show of force is mighty, but on this awful morning, you have to wonder if anyone feels safe.

TIME China

China Cracks Down on ‘Terrorist Videos,’ Arrests More Than 200

Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack on Wednesday, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, on May 1, 2014. Petar Kujundzic—Reuters

Beijing arrested 232 people who "circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices" as the nation continues to reel from a series of knife attacks at rail stations that have been blamed on the autonomy-seeking Uighur minority

Police in China’s restive northwest have arrested more than 200 people for “dissemination of violent or terrorist videos,” state media said Monday.

The six-week security operation in Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority group, comes after a spate of bombings and knife attacks at train stations across the country.

A total of 232 people who “circulated videos promoting terrorism through the Internet and on portable devices” have been detained, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, citing a Legal Daily report.

In late March, Xinjiang’s regional government announced a ban on possessing “terror-related” videos or spreading them via the Internet.

The crackdown was introduced after the March 1 slaughter of 29 people at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming by at least 10 knife-wielding attackers. Some 143 others were wounded in the incident, which was blamed on Uighur separatists.

On April 30, a knife-and-bomb attack struck a rail station in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi just as Chinese President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a tour of the northwestern region. The raid left 79 wounded and three dead, including two attackers.

Then on May 6, six people were injured by at least one knife-wielding assailant at a train station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. One suspect was shot and detained by security officials.

Relations between China’s majority Han population and the Uighur minority are tense, especially in Xinjiang, where many Uighurs demand greater autonomy and say they are being overwhelmed by a flood of Han migrants. Beijing counters that its policies have brought higher living standards and prosperity to the resource-rich region.

TIME Asia

In China, Deadly Bomb and Knife Attack Rocks Xinjiang Capital

Security personnel inspect the explosion site outside Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, April 30, 2014 after an explosion that killed some people and injured some.
Security personnel inspect the explosion site outside Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on April 30, 2014 An He—EPA

At least three people were killed and 79 others injured after an explosion and knifing spree near a train station in northwestern China, seemingly the latest attack orchestrated by the autonomy-seeking Uighur minority

Just hours after China’s President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a rare visit to the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, an explosion and knifing spree near a train station in the regional capital Urumqi left at least three dead and 79 injured. The detonation at Xinjiang’s largest train station, which occurred at around 7:10 p.m. on April 30, emanated from a clutch of luggage left between the station’s exit and a nearby bus stop, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua, which quoted one man saying the blast was so powerful he mistook it for an earthquake. Xinhua also reported that “an initial police investigation showed knife-wielding mobs slashed people at the [station’s] exit.” On Thursday afternoon, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, reported that two of the three fatalities were “mobsters [who] set off bombs on their bodies and died,” while the third casualty was a bystander.

Witness photos of the aftermath, including those of bloodied bags strewn on the ground, were quickly deleted on Chinese social media by government censors. Hours after the attack, Xinhua quoted Xi taking a strong stance: “The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness, and decisive actions must be taken to resolutely suppress the terrorists’ rampant momentum.” But Xinhua’s own social-media alerts on the rail attack were later censored by one Chinese portal as well.

The homeland of the Turkic-speaking Uighur people, Xinjiang has simmered with unrest in recent years. At least 100 people have died in battles and raids that have centered on symbols of the state, like police stations. But violence has also spread to other parts of China. Last year, an SUV plowed into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing two tourists. Police said the car’s occupants, who also died after flames engulfed the vehicle, were Uighur separatists — a man, his wife and his mother. In March, in the most shocking incident to date, 29 passersby were slashed to death at another train station, this time in Kunming, the capital of southwestern Yunnan province. Chinese authorities have released few details about that incident but blamed a gang of knife-wielding separatists from Xinjiang for the deadly strike.

During Xi’s four-day “inspection tour” of Xinjiang — his first since assuming power in 2012 — he decried the spasms of violence that have convulsed the region. Once a vital way station on the Silk Road, part of Xinjiang briefly claimed independence from China early last century as the Republic of East Turkestan. Xi vowed a “strike-first” strategy in the restive region and saluted local police, who hail mostly from China’s Han ethnic majority, as the “fists and daggers” in the battle against terrorism and separatism. “Sweat more in peacetime to bleed less in wartime,” Xi was quoted as saying in Chinese state media. But the Chinese President also showed a softer side, with state TV broadcasting images of Xi smiling as he chatted with Uighur men wearing traditional prayer caps.

A Muslim ethnicity that takes cultural cues from Turkic Central Asia rather than Han China, the Uighurs complain of religious and social repression by the Chinese government. (It is a grievance shared by Tibetans, some 130 of whom have burned themselves to death in horrifying self-immolations.) Some Uighurs also say they have been overwhelmed by a mass migration of Han to Xinjiang, which has turned Uighurs into a minority in their own homeland and left them with fewer job options.

But the escalation of bloodshed, in which innocent civilians have perished, has made the Uighur campaign for sympathy — much less meaningful autonomy — a tougher sell. And each bout of violence brings another security crackdown that may only serve to alienate more Uighurs. After 2009 ethnic riots in Xinjiang, in which some 200 people died, Internet access was shut down for months. Since then, hundreds of Uighurs have been arrested, and exile groups complain of a lack of judicial due process. In the case of the Kunming attack, only the name of the alleged ringleader of the attackers has been released; the case was declared “solved” just two days after the killing spree.

Shortly after Wednesday’s Urumqi explosion, Dilxat Raxit, the spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, a leading exile organization, told Reuters he deplored the heavy security clampdown in Xinjiang and fretted that “such incidents could happen again at any time.” A May 1 Xinhua editorial, with imperfect English translation, responded furiously: “Could he be more licentious by being not even bothered to gloss over his bloodlust? Anyone who preaches killing one’s own kind is a murder.”

TIME Cartography

Maybe Heads of State Shouldn’t Give Maps as Presents

Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel presents Chinese President Xi Jinping with a a map of China from the 18th century at the Chancellor's Office on March 28, 2014, in Berlin BPA/Getty Images

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an antique map of his country as a gift during his recent visit to Berlin, she couldn’t have known what a stir it would cause

Chancellor Angela Merkel probably meant well. In Berlin last week, she gave her guest, Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 1735 map of China made by esteemed French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697–1782). The map, part of a series by d’Anville, was based in part on information gleaned by Jesuit missionaries. It was well regarded at the time and republished for decades to come.

A perfect gift for a visiting dignitary, right? You would think so. But ever since the exchange, China’s Internet has been buzzing about the gift. Why did Merkel choose this particular item? What was the message in the map?

For students of Chinese history, the date jumps out. This was the height of the great Qing dynasty, specifically the year when the Qianlong Emperor ascended to power. He presided over a military expansion west and north, but his death, in 1799, is associated with the period of decline that followed.

And then there are the boundaries. The 1735 d’Anville map shows “China proper” as a landmass separate from areas like Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria. The island of Hainan is drawn in a different color, as is Taiwan. This depiction is utterly at odds with how history is taught here.

Chinese students learn that these areas are inalienable parts of China, and that they have been for a long, long time. One netizen described the map as a “slap” from Merkel. “We always say some regions are inalienable parts of China since ancient times, but Merkel told us that even in 18th century those regions still did not belong to China.”

Another reasoned that it was the mapmakers, not Chancellor Merkel, who messed things up. “Merkel has no special connotation,” they wrote. “At that time German priests [sic] were not allowed to travel in such areas.”

To complicate the matter, at least two different versions of the map have been circulating online. State news wire Xinhua seems to have published an entirely different version of the map, prompting an entirely different set of theories.

Tibetan activist and blogger Tsering Woeser spotted the difference and pointed it out on her Facebook page. To express her dismay at the deception, she used a Chinese idiom that might be translated as “they are so good at perpetrating fraud!” More literally, the phrase means “to steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber.”

The lesson: maps mean different things to different people. And history is made of shaky stuff.

TIME China

Another Deadly Knife Attack Puts China on Edge

A woman cries after her parent was killed in a knifing incident in Changsha, Hunan province March 14, 2014.
A woman cries after her parent was killed in a knifing incident in Changsha, Hunan province, China, March 14, 2014. Reuters

Just two weeks after a mass stabbing in southwest China claimed 29 lives, and days after 153 Chinese disappeared on Flight MH370, another tragedy appears to have struck the Middle Kingdom

Not again? On the morning of March 14, knife-wielding individuals unleashed a stabbing attack in Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province. Three people were killed and two seriously injured, according to Chinese media. In addition, one suspect was shot dead by police and another was captured, reported the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Three suspects are still at large.

Friday morning’s bloodshed echoed a far deadlier rampage on March 1 in the southwestern city of Kunming, which resulted in 29 deaths and more than 140 injuries. That mass murder binge was blamed by the Chinese government on separatists from the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, which is home to the Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim Uighur ethnic minority. All eight of the assailants were either killed or captured. Only one of the attackers’ names has been made public. A couple of days after the carnage, Chinese authorities deemed the case “solved.”

Hunan Metropolis TV reported that Friday’s violence originated with an altercation between street vendors. The Oriental Morning Post, a Shanghai-based newspaper, gave more details: employees at a Xinjiang-style bakery — Uighur flatbreads are popular street food in parts of China — began fighting. One stabbed the other to death and then lashed out at passersby. Hunan Transportation Radio filed a different take: the catalyzing fight took place not between vendors but between a bakery employee and locals buying bread.

If either of these accounts is correct, Friday’s bloodshed seems unlikely to be another terror attack, like the one in Kunming that seemed designed for maximum horror. Xinhua, the state news agency that is usually the main arbiter of major Chinese news, has not yet described the origins of the attack.

Photos allegedly of the incident on the People’s Daily’s Weibo microblog feed show human figures lying prone on the street. Another image is purportedly of the captured assailant. His arms look like they have been handcuffed behind him, and policemen appear to be leading him toward a police vehicle. The man has a mustache; he does not look like a typical Han, the ethnic majority group of China.

Large-scale paroxysms of violence, like the terror attack in Kunming, are extremely rare in China, where a security state and lack of gun ownership have helped prevent mass bloodshed. But it’s not uncommon for frustrated individuals — often nursing some sort of unresolved legal or societal grievances — to slash at people in crowded public places. Nearly all of these incidents outside Xinjiang have involved disaffected Han. In fact, last September, a male former hospital patient attacked three nurses with a knife. The city was Changsha.

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

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