Police and minority Muslims faced off in eastern China this month in a clash that left six people dead, state media confirmed Saturday.
Several hundred members of the Hui minority traveled by bus from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, to neighboring Shandong province, where they fought with police Dec. 12, according to the official New China News Agency.
Six Hui were killed, 19 were wounded and 13 police officers also were injured, the report said, without describing either the clash or its cause.
An account by the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, however, said the events that gave rise to the fighting began in September, when majority Han shopkeepers in Shandong’s Yangxin County started offering what they claimed was “halal pork.” “Halal” means slaughtered according to Muslim precepts, but Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Angry Hui protested to the local government, and police arrested three Hui demonstrators.
Tensions mounted when a pig’s head was found hanging in front of a Yangxin County mosque in December, the center said. It said several hundred residents of predominantly Hui Mengcun County in Hebei headed to Yangxin to show their support for the Hui there but were stopped at police roadblocks. Scuffles then broke out, and police fired into the crowd. Details of that account could not be independently confirmed.
The incident appears similar to others in recent years, mostly triggered by cultural insensitivity or ethnic enmity.
In 1993, a children’s book printed by a state publisher, showing a pig trotting past praying Muslims, sparked fierce protests, clashes and the arrest of dozens of Hui in northwestern China. The book was quickly banned.
And in March, a southern Chinese newspaper printed a photograph of a cloned pig next to a picture of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Muslims expressed outrage, and authorities made the paper run an apology and punish its editor.
As in previous incidents, Chinese authorities moved quickly to downplay the clash in Yangxin and punish organizers of both parties in the dispute.
The New China News Agency described the incident as a “violation of the state’s policy on nationalities that hurt the feelings of the Hui minority.”
“The [Communist] Party and the government have consistently adhered to the policy of respecting minorities’ customs and practices and their freedom to believe in religions,” it said.
Communist Party and Cabinet officials in Beijing ordered an immediate investigation of the clash, and provincial authorities in Shandong fired the heads of Yangxin County’s government, Communist Party committee and police, the agency reported. Hebei authorities “criticized” Hui officials in Mengcun County, it said.
“At present, the mood of the masses is stable, and public order has returned to normal,” it said.
China is home to about 10 million Hui, who account for about a third of the nation’s Muslims. The Hui are descended from Persian merchants who came to China between the 7th and 13th centuries. While largely ethnically assimilated within the Han majority, the Hui retain their distinctive, mosque-centered neighborhoods in Chinese cities. Most numerous in western China, they speak Chinese but recite the Koran in Arabic.