哦，卖糕– which in Chinese sounds like: oh, mai gao!– something like “Oh my God!”. It’s intentional. There’s no better reason to shout, “哦，卖糕!” than hearing that the Chinese government (or the court, technically, although the two are synonymous) forced a Han Chinese citizen to pay 160,000 RMB to a Xinjiang Uighur who ripped him off….. on cake. The story’s redder than the communist sun painted on the backdrop of China’s eight model operas, and 微博 (Weibo), the Chinese version of Twitter, is about to implode with millions of posts about this “cutting cake” escapade. To top it all off, “哦，卖糕” translates “Oh– sell cake!”… gotta love the brilliance of the Chinese language.
Our story begins with the words: “切糕”, which is now a well known phrase among Chinese for being a kind of synonym for “cheat”, although it literally translates “cut cake”.
The story takes an interesting turn thanks to the role of these guys featured below. They’re Uighurs from Xinjiang province who travel the streets of China selling cake. You may remember the conflict between Han Chinese (who comprise 91.5% of China’s population) and the Uighurs (one of China’s 55 minority groups, comprising only around 1% of the total national population) during the Urumqi Riots in July, 2009.
The socioeconomic status of Han Chinese far surpasses that of the Uighurs, contributing to frequent conflicts between the two nationalities that often result in the government stepping in on behalf of one of the two groups. It is precisely this economic strain that encourages Uighurs to sell the densest dessert on the planet (the average cake weighs over 5, 500 pounds!!!) and rip people off in the process.
Ask them for a small slice, and you’ll often find yourself with a slop of nuts and sugar costing over $100. While I assumed getting out of the deal would be a piece of cake, my coworkers informed me otherwise. Apparently, if you order a slice and realize it’s far above your budget or that they’ve heartlessly ripped you off in the clumsiest way possible, there’s no way to walk away empty-handed without a few cuts and bruises. These Uighurs are cake-sellers one moment, gang-members the next, and will call over a group of “friends” to put you in your place and put money in their wallet… no matter what. The police can’t control the situation and rarely intervene, save for particularly extreme conflicts, such as the one that occurred three days ago.
The story goes that a man got ripped off, like almost everyone else who tries to buy this cake, and then proceeded to retaliate, destroying the Uighur’s cake and motorcycle in the process. After taking the issue to court, the man was asked to compensate in the form of paying 160,000 rmb to the Uighur, who the government would then send back to Xinjiang. Apparently, damage to the motorcycle and all wounds inflicted accounted for about 40,000 rmb, while the cake that was destroyed would have sold for 160,000. The problem most people have with the court’s ruling is that it assumes the cake is truly worth that much money— about a third of the cost of a car. Moreover, wasn’t it the Uighur who started the feud in the first place by ripping this guy off and sending thugs to beat him up?
The answer lies in the government’s desire to maintain harmony among Han Chinese and ethnic minority groups. Already, ethnic minorities enjoy legal privileges that Han Chinese don’t— such as receiving a boost in 高考 marks when applying for colleges or the right to have more than one child— all in an effort to compensate for any discrimination or disadvantages that they may experience as a minority group. Situations like this with the cake are no different— the government has definite incentives to act on behalf of minority groups to preserve national stability.
To end on a happy note, the meaning of the phrase “切糕” has been transformed within the past few days to indicate great affection between loved ones. It goes something like this, “I would cut the cake for you”.