Page last updated at 21:47 GMT, Wednesday, 8 July 2009 22:47 UK

Ethnic tensions taboo in China

By Vaudine England
BBC News, Guangzhou

Picture in Guangzhou Daily of smiling factory workers
A paper showed workers smiling at a toy factory where there was unrest

Among the Uighurs who have settled in south-eastern China, it is hard to find anyone prepared to talk openly about life in the Han-majority country.

In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, even people running restaurants that advertise Xinjiang food, have pictures of mosques on the wall, and employ staff wearing headscarves, insist they are not Uighur.

"We are from another minority," said a restaurateur, refusing to say which one.

On 26 June Han and Uighurs at a toy factory in the Guangdong town of Shaoguan fought each other for hours, leaving at least two dead and 118 injured.

It was over this violence that Uighurs in Urumqi, in the north-western Xinjiang province, rallied on Sunday, leading to much more deadly clashes.

Keeping heads down

The restaurateur in Guangzhou did admit to discomfort when watching state television images of recent deadly unrest in Urumqi, but discussing ethnic tensions remains taboo.

Map of China
Main ethnic division: 45% Uighur, 40% Han Chinese
26 June: Mass factory brawl after dispute between Han and Uighurs in Guangdong, southern China, leaves two dead
5 July: Uighur protest in Urumqi over the dispute turns violent, leaving 156 dead and more than 1,000 hurt
7 July: Uighur women protest at arrests of men-folk. Han Chinese make armed counter-march
8 July: President Hu Jintao returns from G8 summit to tackle crisis

The teenage son of another restaurateur, further along San Yuan Li Road in Guangzhou, was even more reticent.

"We don't have time to watch the news," he said.

Prospering in their new life, it seemed the last thing his family wanted was to be associated with rioting back in Xinjiang.

Around Guangzhou's old railway station, what was once a lively and extensive Muslim community has shrunk.

Those left seem determined to keep their heads down in times such as these.

Xinyue Muslim Restaurant in the Xinjiang Mansion - an official home to the representative office of the Uighur Autonomous Region's provincial government - offers nightly floor-shows by Uighur dancing girls.

But before a question about how the unrest in Xinjiang was affecting business could be completed, a waitress interjected.

"This is a very safe place - you don't need to worry," she said.

Factory repaired

Guangzhou newspapers have followed the government line, reporting that the trouble in Xinjiang could only have happened because of outside manipulation.

Coverage has focused on the injuries suffered by the Han.

The Guangzhou Daily recently reported that in Shaoguan, repairs to the assembly line, dormitories and canteen needed after the 26 June fighting at the toy factory had already been completed.


Amateur footage of toy factory riots

"More than 700 Xinjiang migrant workers could resume their work thanks to the Xinjiang and Guangdong relevant departments' officials' endeavours," it said.

Alongside were pictures of happy, smiling Uighur women, back at work at long tables in the toy factory.

Censored TV

Two people in Guangzhou who were prepared to speak were Han taxi drivers, one of whom turned up his radio when the news came on to hear updates from Xinjiang.

Another went so far as to give his surname, Huang, and confide that he watched TV reports from Hong Kong channels, just across the border, to get a clearer picture of events.

"Any time there's anything sensitive, they interrupt the signal and throw in another advertisement or jumble up the pictures," he said.

Chinese police patrol in Urumqi, 8 July 2009
A taxi driver said he agreed with the security crackdown in Urumqi

His views on the unrest in Xinjiang were firm.

"The government treats the Uighur so nicely, yet the Uighurs don't feel satisfied," he said.

"They just create so much trouble. They should be satisfied with what they have."

He agreed with the crackdown now under way by Chinese security forces in Urumqi.

"The Communist Party has already done so much for the Uighurs," he said.

His views are common in commercial centres where Uighurs have thrived.

The communities were included in former Chinese leader Deng Xiao-ping's plans for economic reform from the early 1980s, and have been resident in south China since then.

But as in other parts of the world, problems between different ethnic groups have endured.

The difference in China is that people are reluctant to discuss the issue, and the tensions are hard to measure.

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