Thousands of police patrolled a tense town today after street fights between members of the country's main ethnic group and a Muslim minority left seven people dead and 42 injured.
As many as 5,000 people fought with clubs and burned several houses during weekend violence in Langchenggang in Henan province, central China.
Vehicles with loudspeakers strapped to their roofs drove through the dirt roads broadcasting appeals for calm following the violence between Hui Muslims and members of the Han ethnic majority.
Eighteen people were arrested, the government said today in its first official word on the fighting.
The statement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, did not 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 in Zhongmou County near the provincial capital of Zhengzhou.
“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.”
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% of China’s 1.3 billion people. China has 55 officially recognised ethnic groups.
China suffers occasional ethnic tensions, though the level of violence is not 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.
Today police officers lined the roads into Langchenggang six miles from town. They stopped cars at checkpoints and turned some away. At least four foreign reporters who visited the area were detained.