Tibetan and Han Chinese students of an engineering school in southwestern Sichuan province have clashed over preferential treatment given to minority groups, resulting in an unknown number of injuries, sources said Friday.
Riot police and a crack Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit were summoned to break up the fight at the Chengdu Railway Engineering School in Pi County in Sichuan's capital Chengdu, the sources said.
Netizens posted photos on the Internet showing smashed desks and chairs in classrooms, triggering a clampdown by the authorities of the school's online bulletin board. Some reports said police cars were also damaged.
The fight erupted after Han students, who outnumber Tibetans 3,000 to 300 at the school, questioned Beijing's policy of providing preferential treatment to ethnic minorities.
"You should have seen how they insulted us Tibetans in their Internet postings," a Tibetan student told RFA, complaining about the actions of the Han students.
The authorities however played down reports of the violence.
An official from the Propaganda Department in Sichuan, identified only as Mr. Yang, said there was a "minor scuffle." He could not provide any details.
Referring to reports that "several thousand students" were involved in the clashes, he said, "No, not that many."
"Don't believe the rumors. This is not a fight, only some minor scuffling. It has calmed down now. They resumed classes the next day. I don't think this is such a big thing."
Police on guard
But a volunteer of Tianwang, a nongovernmental organization in Chengdu, said he went to the school on Friday night and saw a dozen anti-riot police and ordinary police personnel standing on guard at the school entrance.
"There were not only uniformed police but some plainclothes police near the entrance of the school. There were no classes. [I heard] there were students injured, including Hans and Tibetans, but I don't know if anyone is dead."
A teacher surnamed Li at the school said he was "not sure what happened" and refused to discuss photos posted online showing smashed desks and chairs.
"I am not clear on that. Really," he said before hanging up the telephone.
A probe by RFA found that all postings on the school's Internet bulletin board had to be cleared by the Web Master.
Tensions have been building for some time between Tibetan and Han students at the school, according to some students. They cited an incident last year in which Tibetan students beat up some Han students.
"Tibetans have been bullying us for so long. The enmity has been deep and long," one Han student said on Thursday. "Last night, we beat them. It was a great victory."
"We showed them that we are not people who can be bullied," another student said.
A Tibetan student said he wants the authorities to investigate the incident in a "fair" manner.
"If they cannot guarantee our safety, what is the point of going to school?," another Tibetan student asked. "It may be better for us to just stay home and rear cattle. At least we will be safe."
There has been much debate over Beijing's policy of preferential treatment of minorities.
On government subsidies given to ethnic minorities, Tibetan writer Woeser told RFA, "The Han students feel that their complaints are justified. But the minority students feel that they are entitled [to the preferential treatment]."
"They feel that the education they receive is an education of Sinification because they have to go to school in a region other than their own. They are put at a disadvantage, because they have to give up their native language and learn that of the Han people."
She said that some groups feel that preferential treatment programs implemented after China's worst ethnic violence in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang in July 2009 are unfair.
"Ethnic minorities enjoy preferential treatment in a small way, but when you look at the big picture, they have endured harsh treatment. They face many restrictions and severe crackdowns," Woeser said.
Reported by Hai Lan of RFA's Cantonese service, Xin Yu of RFA's Mandarin service, and RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Jennifer Chou, Shiny Li and Jigme Ngapo. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.