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.”