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The nation of China has traditionally been considered (by Western stereotype) as remarkably homogenous; a nation of interlocking, complementary units, free of conflict and of individuals.

This isn’t true of course. China, like India, Brazil and even Japan, is a patchwork of related but distinct ethnic groups. Yesterday’s terrorist attack by (we may presume) Muslim Uyghur seperatists is a timely reminder of this fact, and should be less surprising to the media than it is.

The Uyghur peope of north-West China inhabit a region where the Sinic ethnic expanse blurrs into Turkic and Mongol. They are, to some purposes, a border post, half-in and half-out, analogous to the Tibetans.

Uyghurs are also predominantly Muslim, and have complained (in a style that will be familiar) about their ‘oppression’ by the state.

To be sure, as Muslim complaints go, this one could seem partly warranted. The Chinese state plainly does discriminate against religious groups, whether Christian, Buddhist or Muslim. What is different and invaluably revealing however, is that only the Muslims have resorted to violence.

Yesterday’s violence was medieval in style; a stark contrast to the uncompromising modernism of its venue. The attackers cut and slashed through a crowd of ordinary civilians like 8th century warriors, unmixed by civilized ideas.

“Witnesses described attackers in black clothing hacking at people apparently at random. Sixteen-year-old student Qiao Yunao told the Associated Press she was waiting to catch a train when people started crying out and running. She then saw a man cut another man’s neck.”

China isn’t noted for a softly-softly approach to criminal behaviour, and we may rest assured that the offenders (or those who remain alive) will be given their due. The greater and more important question of whether we can gain a cultural ally in Beijing remains an open one.