Hotan attack takes a toll on business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 July, 2011, 12:00am


Fears of further violent incidents, coupled with growing misunderstanding between the minority Han Chinese and the Uygurs, is taking its toll on businesses in Hotan, Xinjiang, a week after 18 people were killed in an attack on a police station in the city.

On the first weekend after the attack, streets around Unity Square in the heart of the city were almost deserted instead of being packed with the usual crowds. Nearly half a dozen shops - most owned by Han Chinese - at the Hotan Jade Article Market beside the square were shut.

Qu Chengbin, the owner of one of a handful of jade shops that were open, said he had suffered a significant loss since the violence.

'My shop used to make up to 150,000 yuan [HK$181,200] a day when throngs of visiting officials on trips to Hotan and tourists from either Western countries or Japan visited us,' Qu said. 'But now, after the incident, we seldom manage to reach 2,000 yuan a day.'

Qu said it was not difficult to quantify the incident's adverse impact on the industry with hundreds of visitors suddenly cancelling business or tourist trips, even though jade articles are a must-buy for those who visit Hotan.

As an important stop along the ancient Silk Road, Hotan originally became well known because of the high quality, in terms of whiteness and flawlessness, of jade it produced.

Qu said owners of businesses in the Uygur-populated region would never forget the burning to death of a Han family of six, who operated a grain and oil grocery store, by a group of Uygurs during riots in Urumqi on July 5, 2009. The riots claimed nearly 200 lives and more than 1,600 were injured.

A middle-aged female owner of another jade shop said it was meaningless if a person made millions of yuan but lost their life for the sake of running the business.

Some businesspeople have contemplated leaving the city and moving to the countryside. 'On the day the killing took place, I received 20 calls from relatives in my hometown and another 30 from friends in Urumqi,' said a restaurant owner in his late 30s.

He said the callers, including his ageing parents, begged him to leave and start a new life somewhere safer. However, after discussion with his family, he decided to stay put and continue running the business he had worked hard to establish since leaving the People's Liberation Army in Xinjiang.

The threat of being subject to attacks is causing trepidation among Han Chinese, who account for less than 3 per cent of the population. And this is not helped by disturbing rumours circulating in the city.

Within the Han community there is gossip that two Han Chinese lovers had their throats cut by Uygurs somewhere in the city last Tuesday evening.

An official with a sub-district administrative office, responsible for security at the police station which was attacked, did not verify the rumour but said the male victim worked at a hotel and the girl was a student. He said both suffered serious injury and were being treated in hospital.

Han Chinese, either residents or visitors, have almost disappeared in the Uygur-dominated areas, such as the Grand Bazaar, and this has also made it harder for Han businesses to do well.

However, Qu, who has had Uygur friends since childhood, is still cautiously optimistic. 'Time might be the only panacea for this problem,' he said. 'Maybe over time we can eliminate this hostility and rebuild the mutual trust between the minority Han Chinese and majority Uygurs in Hotan.'