An unbelievably expensive piece of Xinjiang nut cake and what it tells about the ethnic policy in China

Alia | December 4th, 2012 - 1:39 am

Since last night, Xinjiang nut cake has suddenly become the hottest buzz word on the Chinese Internet. For those who don’t even know what Xinjiang nut cake is, check out the picture below. Basically, Xinjiang nut cakes (切糕, qie gao), typically made of a mixture of nuts, sweets and glutinous rice, is a street snack usually sold by Uyghurs riding a tricycle. It’s not the cheapest, nor the most popular street food in China, but it’s filing and known for its Uyghur sellers. But after last night, Xinjiang nut cakes was given much more significance than a street food.

The “Xinjiang nut cake gate” started from a Weibo post by the official Weibo account of Yueyan police @岳阳公安警事 (Weibo is a leading microblogging platform in China). The post was already deleted after going viral.

“#Police Alert# Villager Ling went into a fight with Uyghurs due to communication misunderstandings when buying a piece of Xinjiang nut cake. Verbal dispute escalated into a fight and then a mass fight. As a result, two people were injured; and Xinjian nut cakes of a total worth of about RMB 160,000 were destroyed. Total damage was about RMB 200,000, including fees for broken motorcycle and injured people. Currently, local police at Pingjiang already detained Ling. The 16 Uyghur sellers were properly compensated and sent back to Xinjiang.”

Xinjiang nut cakes on tricyces and Uyghur sellers

This one piece of RMB 160,000 Xinjian nut cake soon swept China’s microblog-sphere. Everybody was talking about, and making fun, of it. Weibot 北京厨子, a popular Weibo celebrity, did a calculation: “A piece of Xinjiang nut cake about 1.6 square meters in size cost RMB 160,000, which means about RMB 100,000 per square meter. Every 1 square meter of Xinjiang nut cake can buy about 3 square meters of apartment in Beijing.” Another popular commentator on Weibo, 老徐时评 commented: “Now when a tricycle full of Xinjiang nut cakes crashes into a BMW, it’s the BMW that needs to run.” Netizen 心肥龙 joked: “Xinjiang nut cake, the new hard currency of 2012. Store up!” Netizen 罗伊_十年一梦 said: “Selling Xinjiang nut cake is the new shortcut to rich.” Netizen 咖啡叔 commented: “iPhone is so yesterday. Xinjiang nut cake is the new symbol of social status.” Netizen 哲思蝶影, on the other hand, was thinking of using the cake to balance Sino-US relationship: “Obama has decided to use several tons of Xinjiang nut cakes to repay China.”

Propose to your girlfriend with a piece of Xinjang nut cake

Jokes aside, Xinjiang nut cakes have always been a controversial street food. People’s biggest concern is the so-called “Xinjiang nut cake party,” a group of closely-organized Uyghur sellers who, in the eyes of many netizens, know nothing about fair trade. In most of the cases, consumers have no say in how much to buy – he or she pays for whatever s/he is given to.  For example, netizen 烧烤象鼻虫 described the situation in his hometown: “I used to saw some Xinjiang nut cake street vendors outside the Tianjin Railway Station. 50 yuan per ounce; and you pay for what is cut off for you. A guy went to buy a piece but refused to pay for the several pounds that were cut for him. Soon there was a fight.” Netizen 紫依若久 had similar experience: “I bought Xinjiang nut cake once, and that was my only and last time. The Uyghur guy cut me a very small piece and asked for over 100 yuan. I cannot say no nor ask for a smaller piece. He forced me to pay with his knife in hand.”

In a sense, this piece of RMB 160,000 Xinjiang nut cake is a perfect example of what China’s ethnic policies have created in society. 南都评论, the commentary channel of Nanfang Daily, pointed to the deeper social reason of the case:

“Xinjian nut cake is suddenly popular. The fear of clashes [between different ethnic groups] leads to such unbelievable numbers. Sarcasm is the result of cruel reality. Ethnic polices that meant to show understanding and tolerance lead to opposite results in real life due to its own absurdity – they divide ethnic groups and create bigger inequality. Forced purchases are a disaster of a group. A law that favors one group over the other is a disaster of a nation.”

闾丘露薇, famous Chinese journalist, also put the blame on police’s judgement: “It’s not about Xinjiang nut cakes. It’s not about who’s selling the cake. It’s about how local police came up with the loss number. Injustice is what people cannot accept.”

When outsiders talk about news in which ethnic minorities in Tibet or Xinjiang are reported to feel repressed and edged by Han Chinese, they oftentimes find it hard to understand why most Han Chinese feel no sympathy for the sufferings of ethnic minorities. Nothing happens for no reason. The ethnic policies in China create a seemingly unfair favor toward the minorities – they can have more than one child, they can get into college with much lower scores, they receive less severe punishments when committing crimes, especially if the victim is Han Chinese, to name the most common few. As a result, it’s no wonder that the Han Chinese (95% of China’s population) feel the unresting minorities in Tibet or Xinjiang are a group of unappreciating free-riders. Such social divide created by China’s ethnic policies makes no one happy. While the minorities feel discriminated, the Han say they are put into disadvantageous positions by reverse discrimination.  Like netizen 徽剑 pointed out: “China’s ethnic policies is the root of all its ethnic problems.” Netizen Fanson1982 shared the same view: “A distorted ethnic policy will not lead to social stability. All it does is breaking the bonds among different ethnic groups.”

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  13. [...] 2012 in one sentence: In January, Benshan abandoned the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. In February, bears’ galls were taken when they were still alive. In March Du Fu was a guest performer everywhere. In April, capsules were found to be made by leather shoes. In May, China is on the tip of the tongue. In June, life is so wonderful according to Master Yancan. In July, torrential rains are even more to be dreaded than tigers. In August, there was Uncle Bird’s [Psy] horse dance. In September,  there was Suzhou’s “long johns” [The Gate of the Orient]. October’s Yuanfang was as busy as a bee. November’s plane [ J-15 jet] hey let’s go. In December, Xinjiang nuts cakes couldn’t be afforded. [...]

  14. Uyghur says:

    I hope the Han Chinese are able to have the humanity to debate on the thousands of Uyghurs who were tortured to death in police custody since July, 2009.

    • Obsi says:

      I find it highly unlikely you’re an Uyghur in the first place. Probably another oversea self proclaimed “human rights” activist who probably doesn’t know where Xinjiang is on the map, or more likely another viet who’s here to spew bs and cause problems.

      Go read some history for once, then again, with your mental capacity based on what your style of writing, that will probably never happen.


  15. Uyghurman says:

    It is shocking that so many Han Chinese upset about the their government’s compensation of 160000 Yuan for confiscating and destroying the livelihood of 16 Uyghurs. All those comments are exaderated craps of those “civilised” mobs. In actual case, each of those 16 Uyghurs was paid about 10000 yuan (US$1600)for his hundreds of kilos of nutcake, injury, bibe and other loses. Hundred thousands of Han Chinese corrupted officials in Uyghur Homeland ahve been making hundred millions of dollars every year in dishonest ways in espense of the loss Uyghur families. Millions of Han migrants have been offered free land, water and houses which were owned by Uyghurs. Why those people do not debate about these?

  16. Uyghur says:

    The main ingredient of the nut cake is high quality walnuts and very expensive even in Uyghur homeland. A compensation of 160000 yuan has caused so much debate but billions of Uyghurs land, water, mineral, language have been taken over without any compensation caused no dbate.

  17. [...] nut cake) went viral on Weibo last week. Netizens were shocked by the damages incurred–qiegao ruined in the spat were valued at 160,000 RMB. Anti-Uyghur comments, particular portraying the ethnic group as violent and criminal, have since [...]

  18. tesla says:

    the large size of the fine was because the police took most of the fine for themselves.

    has nothing to do with the uyghurs. i suspect the eyghurs are going to get the blame to cover up what really happens. cops stealing money from their own people.

  19. [...] Beat China highlights an ethnic conflict between Uyghur nut cake sellers and Chinese customers which had developed into a mass fight. The compensation of RMB 200,000 to the Uyghur sellers have [...]

  20. Rosy says:

    I do not make any excuse for the Uyghurs in inner China who are engaged in criminal activities. But there are some problems in China’s minority policies.

    During my recent trips to China, I discovered that more Uyghurs are on the streets of Chinese cities, like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, selling Uyghur naans, nutcakes, and kababs. I had a chat with some of them to find out how their life was.

    I also remember that in recent years the Chinese government has promoted a policy to relocate “surplus” labor from Xinjiang region, particularly from the rural areas to “work” in inner China. I wonder if these Uyghur nutcake vendors are those “surplus” labor encouraged to go to inner China.

    If these Uyghurs are encouraged to go to inner China to make money, if nobody provides them with orientation lessons on how to live legally and peacefully in Chinese cities, if nobody give them cultural lessons on how to live harmoniously among massive Han Chinese population without knowing Chinese language and culture well, I wonder how they will survive there and who will take responsibility for their behavior and misunderstanding between them and Han Chinese people.

    I wonder how would a Han Chinese person will make a living and feel if he/she were living alone in a totally Uyghur region.

    Therefore, the government needs to do more before promoting any minority policy prematurely. Secondly for those people who are good at racial profiling, I wonder if they have ever reached out to an Uyghur vendor or any Uyghur kindly.

  21. Itto says:

    The only thing breaking bonds between ethnic groups is when the Xingjiang nutcake mafia come over and looky loo when an argument breaks out over the extortionary cost of the slice of cake. It’s nothing but a racket. I was a tourist and it happened to me. Luckily no violence occurred. Eventually the seller cut the piece in half and I bought it but for a while it was looking kinda ugly. They should just sell their damn cake for a price that is plainly marked and measure you out as much as you want to buy. Instead they try to rip you off.

  22. Yolvas says:

    Every day in China, street vendors, regardless of ethnicity, rip off customers one way or another. Maybe in this case it is a Uyghur. But many Uyghur are ripped off by Han in Urumchi or Kashgar. There is nothing unusual about it. The only thing unusual is the perception here heavily influenced by the Chinese government propaganda against Uyghurs portraying them as “violent, backward, criminals, terrorists,” etc. As a result, they are not respected at all by the Han people while their human rights are daily violated by a Han government. That is why things like this happen in China. Regarding nutcake, if you think it is expensive, which I really think so, then don’t buy it. Why do you fight the seller? I have no money to buy such expensive nutcake, even though it is really mouth-watering.

    • starbucks_sg says:

      If you think Han Chinese are ripping off Uyghurs, then you may not have visited the night markets around most Chinese cities. I was at one such night market directly adjacent to the Garden Hotel in Shenzhen. I literally saw an Uyghur boy handpicking a wallet out of an unfortunate Han Chinese girl. I wanted to stop him and my partner cautioned me not too as it was operated by a syndicate. These kids know that the Chinese law in some ways protect them against discrimination and they get off lightly in any punishment. As for the nutcake, I had the same experience. I was once also given a cut three times the slice I wanted. The vendor insisted he already sliced it. Because I didn’t want to make a big fuss, I just left it as that.

  23. [...] via An unbelievably expensive piece of Xinjiang nut cake and what it tells about the ethnic policy in Ch…. [...]

  24. CHINA says:

    Indeed! There is no other food in China that I enjoy more than Xinjiang nut cake (it’s the perfect energy food when hiking sacred mountains and during long-distance train travel) and yet there is no other food here I FEAR more while purchasing, because it always, always, always, always, always results in either getting ripped off or bullied by the vendor.

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