Chinese social media has been abuzz following an alleged shootout between police and “Xinjiang Uyghur extremists” in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou on Monday night. Posts related to the alleged incident have since triggered widespread censorship by authorities, though neither officials nor local media have yet confirmed the episode.

On microblogging site Weibo, the topic “Zhengzhou shooting” was viewed nearly five million times by Tuesday morning, while over 1,700 commented on it. The page was deleted just hours later.

“Zhengzhou shooting” became one of the hottest topics on Weibo on Tuesday morning.
The page was deleted hours later.

News of the alleged shooting was also widely circulated on Wechat, a platform where users’ posts are only visible to their contacts and are not searchable by strangers.

Many on both Wechat and Weibo said police officers and “Xinjiang thugs” exchanged gun fire on the intersection of Daxue Road and Huaihe Road in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province on Monday night. A policeman and a gunman were said to have been killed. The local government has not yet released a statement about the alleged incident.

A Xinjiang restaurant in Zhengzhou near where the alleged shooting took place. Photo: weibo

Pictures posted on social media showed police gathering outside a Xinjiang restaurant, which is confirmed to be at the intersection of Daxue Road and Huaihe Road. However, HKFP was unable to verify other photos as users who shared them on social media refused to be interviewed.

A Xinjiang restaurant in Zhengzhou near where the alleged shooting took place. Photo: Wechat

Residents living in the area said on Wechat that they heard six to seven gunshots. One person who called himself “green city (青城)” on Wechat said he helped carry an injured person after the shooting. Another on Wechat said one attacker was shot dead. Other witnesses said multiple police cars arrived on Huaihe Road following the shooting.

A man who claimed to have witnessed the shooting and helped the injured posted pictures on Wechat.

Users on Sina Weibo accused authorities of trying to cover up the incident by deleting pictures and videos of it. Many called upon the government to address the incident openly as unconfirmed news of attackers still at large went viral.

“What on earth happened?” one said. “Sina keeps deleting…it will only arouse more suspicion,” another said.

A message allegedly sent by Zhengzhou police to drivers calling on them to help catch a fugitive gunman. Photo: Weibo

Local traffic police allegedly sent out a message to taxi drivers urging them to look out for the fugitive attacker. The message described the man as a Uyghur, around 30 years old, 1.7 metres tall and holding a weapon.

China celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region on Tuesday while the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region will mark its 60th birthday on October 1 this year. Both regions have been plagued by unrest and violence as local ethnic minorities accused the Han government of suppressing their religious freedom.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.