Thousands of police patrol Chinese town after deadly ethnic clashes
LANGCHENGGANG, China – Police by the thousands patrolled this central Chinese town Monday and residents hunkered down in their homes after deadly street fights between members of the country’s main ethnic group and a Muslim minority.
On Monday, minivans with loudspeakers strapped to their roofs drove through the dirt roads of Langchenggang and neighboring villages in Henan province, broadcasting appeals for calm.
As many as 5,000 people fought with sticks and burned several houses over the weekend in violence between Hui Muslims and members of the Han ethnic majority, according to Langchenggang residents interviewed by phone.
The fighting killed seven people and injured 42, according to residents and the government. Langchenggang residents could not confirm a report by The New York Times of 148 deaths, including 18 police officers.
Authorities imposed martial law on the area in Zhongmou County near the city of Zhengzhou, residents said.
Eighteen people were arrested, the government said late Monday in its first official word on the fighting. The statement, carried by the Xinhua News Agency, didn’t mention the ethnicities of the rioters.
The government said the violence began after members of two families from separate villages fought over a traffic dispute.
“Afterward, residents of both villages assembled with weapons,” the Xinhua report said. “One villager was beaten to death on the spot and two died in the hospital one day later.”
It didn’t say how the other deaths occurred.
A spokesman for the county government, Liang Songzhou, said the traffic dispute involved a collision between two farm vehicles, one driven by a Han and the other by a Hui.
Today’s Hui are descended from ethnic Chinese who converted to Islam generations ago. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people. China has 55 officially recognized ethnic groups.
China suffers occasional ethnic tensions, though the level of violence isn’t clear because the communist government, eager to maintain the narrative of unity it has long trumpeted, routinely suppresses reports of social conflict.
Tensions are worse in China’s poor countryside, home to some 800 million people. Economic competition, disputes over scarce farmland and control of lucrative government posts often combine to cause unrest.
In December 2000, at least five Hui were shot and killed by police during protests in the eastern province of Shandong after a dispute over a Han butcher advertising “Muslim pork.” Muslim dietary laws forbid the eating of pork.