A Short Thought on Crime and China

After my two brushes with crime in China — a mugging, which resulted in the theft of my Nokia N95, and catching a catburglar trying to break in to my apartment — the reactions among Chinese people were all pretty similar:

  • Did you see his face? Did he look like he was from Xinjiang?
  • Was he a Xinjiang person?
  • A Xinjiang guy stole your phone, right?

By “Xinjiang person” the speakers mean a Uighur, a Eurasian minority from Xinjiang that is genetically and linguistically related to Turkish people. In Tianjin and other large Chinese cities, Uighurs are among the lowest of the underclass, making a living selling dried fruits or Muslim food or, yes, by stealing and selling stolen goods.*

What was striking to me, however, was the automatic assumption on the part of Chinese that “thief = Uighur.” Is this just a Tianjin thing or are such reactions common around China?

* Note that I’ve never been robbed by a Uighur but they’ve offered me (presumably) stolen cell phones dozens of times.


4 thoughts on “A Short Thought on Crime and China

  1. First up, the only guys who ever offered me stolen goods in Tianjin were clearly 100% Han, and locals, I would guess from their accents. Not that it’s possible to be 100% Han, but that’s another discussion…

    And the stereotype exists in Beijing, too. In fact, one particularly bad day, I had to stop a woman in Beijing’s Tongzhou District from having the bag on the carrier of her very slow moving bike (Tongzhouren are the doziest people I’ve ever come across in my life, just for the sake of adding a stereotype) picked apart by two obviously Xinjiang (probably Uighur, possibly Kazakh or some smaller minority) kids. It pissed me off because the best students I had at the school I was working at were all from Xinjiang, all Uighur, and best students as in by far the most intelligent and hardest working, and my favourite restaurants in that district were owned, run and staffed exclusively by Uighurs and they were my favourites because the made excellent food and were a gazillion times more friendly than even the friendliest local Han, and these two little shits had to spoil it all by confirming the (completely unfounded) stereoptype Beijing’s Han have of “Xinjiangren”.

  2. There’s a crowd of Xinjiang guys* who congregate around one set of bridges downtown in Tianjin and they often flash stolen phones to passersby. But aside from them, the vast majority of the Uighurs I’ve met have been hard-working street vendors or students. And like you, I met several friendly, interesting Uighur students at Tianjin Polytech, most of whom were involved in fashion or textiles, but unlike you I didn’t teach them any English.

    * Looking back at this comment, it’s strange that I unconsciously wrote “Xinjiang guys” when describing the criminal element. It’s all the Han Chinese talk getting into my head. Ah!

  3. Uighurs are bloody thieves, they should not be allowed to go to Han-Chinese dominated cities, and they are just as uncivilised as those pathetic jihadists locked to death in Guantanomo bay~~ They are no good.

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