Cashing in on fearful governments

By Guo Kai Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-6 13:40:00


A qiegao vendor showcases this candy from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Qingdao, Shandong Province. Photo: IC
A qiegao vendor showcases this candy from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Qingdao, Shandong Province. Photo: IC




The relationship between local governments and ethnic minority groups throughout China can be a sensitive one, and local governments run the risk of being conned, as evidenced by a recent conflict between locals in Hunan Province and candy sellers from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The province's Yueyang Public Security Bureau published a post on its official Sina Weibo account Monday stating that the local police of Pingjiang county recently dealt with a conflict that involved 16 walnut kernel candy sellers from the Uyghur ethnic minority group.

According to the post, a villager surnamed Ling was detained, and the sellers were sent back to Xinjiang after they received compensation of 200,000 yuan ($32,125), including 160,000 yuan to cover the damage to the candy, a kind of glutinous rice cake, or qiegao, from Xinjiang.

After the post, millions of Web users commented on the high compensation the Xinjiang locals received. The term qiegao entered the netizen lexicon.

"Do you love me? Sell your house to buy me a piece of qiegao," read one comment. "Qiegao have transformed into hard currency," read another.

It wasn't long before the local government made an about-face on the issue, releasing revised figures.

The following Wednesday, the Yueyang Public Security Bureau published a new announcement explaining that the local pricing department estimated that the 5,520 kilograms of damaged candy was valued at 96,600 yuan, and the total compensation was 152,000 yuan, covering the medical charges, the candy damages, the damaged motor tricycles and other fees. The Pingjiang county government paid the costs.

The case highlighted how governments in China, inexperienced in dealing with minority issues, throw money at the problem. But experts say this risks making the situation worse.

Payday for conflicts

Experts have pointed out that local authorities should not be scared to deal with conflicts involving ethnic groups and treat these affairs as normal, or they risk encouraging people to abuse the system.

In the past, Web users tended to focus on the minorities and the national preferential policies toward minorities, then the discussions devolved into slanging matches.

In this case, the Web users had revealed the fact that the local authorities had little experience dealing with minorities, Turgunjun Tursun, an associate professor with the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

He said that local authorities should deal with these cases by considering "what kind of affair it is before solving it through regulations and laws, rather than linking the affair with ethnic issues."

His point was echoed by Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic studies at the Minzu University of China, who said that the case was definitely a dispute between buyers and sellers, with the sellers wanting to extort some money.

"China pays attention to the affairs of ethnic groups, and many policies have been carried out to benefit them. But they are for the public, not for those who violate laws," Xiong told the Global Times.

"They want to escalate the case to a mass event, and then they can profit from it," Xiong said, stressing that these were only isolated cases and the authorities should deal with them according to the law.

Pingjiang county isn't the only area where minority groups have held inexperienced governments to ransom.

According to information posted on the official website of Jinhu county, Jiangsu Province, on July 31, 2010, 15 migrant workers from the Yi minority participated in a local government project to improve rural electricity wires in Qianfeng township, but the contractor in charge of the project fled with money.

The workers said that if they could not get the money for the project, 35,000 yuan, in two days, they would prevent access to the area and damage electrical equipment.

According to the government website, they also threatened to spread slander online, saying that the local government had discriminated against minorities.

The local police then got in touch with the electricity company and the labor authorities to negotiate with the workers, and arranged to get the money for them on August 3.

After they were paid, they left. The local government cited it as a successful resolution that prevented a "mass incident."

Guarding against fraud

According to the report to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Party should fully and faithfully implement the policies concerning ethnic groups and uphold and improve the system of regional ethnic autonomy.

However, it's not quite as simple as that.

Zhang Zhuting, a law professor at the Transport Management Institute under the Ministry of Transport, told the Global Times that "everyone is equal before the law. China's Criminal Law does not include special items for minorities, and only civil laws, like the marriage law, take into account the customs of minorities."

In dealing with these cases, authorities should consider their citizenship, not their ethnicity, he added.

Zhang also pointed out that the local governments often play down these cases due to language problems.

"Communication with these minorities can be hard for the police or officials in inland areas, and the administrative costs increase when they hire an interpreter," Zhang said.

The Guangzhou-based South Review reported in 2008 that two police officers from Xinjiang went to Kaifeng, Henan Province, to assist in a theft case involving minorities from Xinjiang, due to their language abilities. The case proved successful.

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