One of the more important events of the month, possibly the year, are the riots in the capital of Xianjiang province, Urmuqi. Although the riots seem to have eluded the glare of the media recently and are nearly not as well known or protested over as Tibet, the riots between the ethnic Uighuirs—a Muslim community who has lived in the area under Chinese occupation for hundreds of years since the Qing dynasty and the Han Chinese*—reached a critical mass leaving over a hundred people dead, causing smaller uprisings across Xianjiang province, and requiring the Beijing government to send in the army to quell the situation.
It was caused by the eventual boiling over of underlying tensions between the Uighurs and Chinese that had been threatening to erupt since recent times. Ss Urumqi has become more industrial, there has been an influx of Han Chinese workers to what was a mostly Uighur town, so they have felt like their way of life is threatened as well as a feeling that, economically, the Han Chinese reap far more benefit. This spilled over earlier in the year with an incident that saw two Uighur men killed after false allegations of alleged sexual assault against a Han Chinese woman. This caused major unrest within the Uighur community, which had been building—not just as the loss of life but the anger at how the Beijing government handled the situation, despite arrests of those who started the false allegations. This turned out to be the final straw that lead to the disturbances in Urumqi.
On July the 5th, this boiled over into full-scale rioting. It is rare to see any type of rioting in the country, so the news that riots were occurring certainly came as a surprise, most of all to Chinese Premier Hu Jintao who had to return from the G8 meeting in L'Aquila to handle the situation. However, one thing in common with most disturbances in China is that the government has kept a tight rein on the media, shutting down phones as well as internet in the Xianjiang province. Because of this the details are sketchy, but this does not mean we should immediately disregard an official version of what occurred.
According to various reports, the unrest initially started out as a peaceful protest against the murders of Uighurs. However, they were angrily confronted by Chinese police as well as local Han Chinese. This turned out to be the spark for the ensuing rioting. The crowd swelled and it was the Uighurs who caused nearly all the destruction and damage, torching cars, attacking both the police and citizens in a rampage that left over 1,000 hurt and 156 dead. Most of the dead are Han Chinese, with only a handful Uighur, most likely killed by the Chinese police. However, the deadly force may have been acceptable and internationally there is surprise that the Chinese have remained fairly restrained by their standards. It has calmed since then, although there have been (mostly peaceful) protests from both the Han Chinese and Urmqui population. There have also been widespread arrests, but nothing on the scale of those in Tibet.
It may signify a hopeful seed of a more merciful approach from the Chinese across their nation; only time will tell. For now though, we can only hope that there is not a flare up of violence again in Urumqi and that no more lives lost.
*For the purposes of this article, Han Chinese refers to a typical Chinese Citizen, but they are referred to as Han Chinese to differentiate from the Uighurs, who despite their Muslim heritage are also Chinese.