On July 1st, halal restaurant Alilan Beef Noodles (阿里兰牛肉面) opened its doors on Shanghai’s famous East Nanjing Road. What was supposed to be a celebratory first day turned into a nightmare when more than 100 angry people, allegedly from the Hui ethnic group, surrounded the restaurant and blocked customers from coming in while threatening the staff. The Hui people are a predominantly muslim ethnic group in China.
In an interview published on video platform Miaopai, Alilan owner Xian Guolin, a Hui muslim himself, stated that he was offered 300,000 RMB (±45,000$) to close his business – a small amount compared to the 1,5 million RMB (±224,700$) he invested in it.
The people who harassed him claimed to be muslim representatives of Shanghai’s beef noodle shops and demanded the owner to leave. According to owner Xian, he was told that his own life and that of his family would be in danger if he would not close his business.
As reported by Sixth Tone, the people told him he needed to shut down his business because it allegedly violated the so-called “Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia treaty”, which claims that there should be no other beef noodles restaurant within 400 meters of a Hui muslim restaurant.
The ‘agreement’, that alleges to promote a “harmonious and stable” noodle market, states that those who do not abide by the rules will have to face the consequences and accept any financial losses. The document also states it is meant to protect ‘ethnic solidarity’.
The noodle agreement is highly controversial as it does not have any legal standing, with some calling it “ridiculous”. A similar conflict erupted in the south of China last summer when Lanzhou beef noodles where at the center of a huge noodle war also evolving around a local noodle contract.
In the weeks following the opening of Alilan, the group of people remained to stand in front of the restaurant. According to the owner, this caused a daily loss of around 4500 RMB (±670 US$) to his business.
The topic became popular on Chinese social media under the hashtag of “Beef Noodle Gate” (#拉面风云) as owner Xian (@阿里兰牛肉面) shared the turbulence with his followers. It soon attracted 400 million views and 90,000 discussions on Sina Weibo.
With people like Weibo VIP user and editor Hey-Xiaodiao (@嗨-小刁) closely following the event and writing about it, the affair became a social media hype that resulted in many Shanghai residents showing their support for Alilan by dining there despite the presence of the noodle gang.
The Alilan restaurant kept its followers up to date on recent developments through its official Weibo account. On July 18, they posted the following pictures, writing: “They were chased away by the police today but then came back during the night with over 40 persons. There were netizens who confronted them while smoking. Because smoking is not allowed according to Islamic religion, this then led to an argument between them, and all our customers were also driven away.”
Large numbers of Weibo netizens offered their support to Alilan and rejected the noodle gang for their actions. Many Weibo users also expressed their worry that such a thing could happen in one of China’s most famous city centers: “Is this Shanghai or is this Islam territory?!”
But over the past few days, netizens’ help seemed to bring an end to the blockade, as one diner wrote on July 22: “No more people standing in front of the door, and 50% discount thanks to netizens’ support”, and: “Business is quite good. Many things are sold out. Support Alilan and oppose white hats!” (‘White hats’ refers to Hui Muslims, who usually wear the taqiyah white cap for religious purposes.)
“Come over, food is good,” others wrote, posting pictures of the noodles and themselves having dinner at the restaurant.
The Alilan restaurant thanked Chinese netizens for their overwhelming support through Weibo, and shared that it even had supporters coming from as far as Nanjing and Hangzhou to have dinner at their restaurant.
Although the Alilan owner and staff expressed their joy and gratefulness, many netizens were not satisfied with how the affair was handled as the actions of the “noodle gang” went unpunished.
“The ‘noodle gang’ has won”, one Weibo user (@霜叶不活跃) writes: “This shows all noodle gangs around the country that even if they cause huge problems in cities like Shanghai against their fellow ethnic minorities, they will not be punished for it. If they succeed, they earn loads of money, if they fail, they just need to walk away and find another victim. Nothing serious.”
Other netizens stressed that everyone should be equal before the law , and that there should be no excemptions made for conflicts taking place within ethnic or religious groups: “The Alilan issue seems be to a conflict among muslims (“穆斯林内部冲突“), but if you look at it from another side, it is also a collision and compromise between Han Chinese and muslims, and a manifestation of a culture clash between our national ethnic groups”, writes one netizen.
For now, the Alilan restaurant is seemingly doing good business as many netizens point out its tasty dishes and ignore the negativity of the past few weeks. “We will resist all people who attempt to dominate the market under the flag of religion,” one Weibo user writes.
“I congratulate Alilan noodles,” one netizen writes: “You have now become a famous Shanghai brand.”
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