A beef noodle restaurant in Shanghai was forced to change its sign out front in order to please its neighboring rivals, after facing harassment for breaching the unwritten business norm that bars anyone from opening up a beef noodle shop anywhere within 400 meters of an existing shop.
A Hui Muslim from Gansu province, surnamed Xian, opened a halal restaurant named Alilan Beef Noodles on Shanghai’s East Nanjing Road earlier this month. Xian told Sixth Tone that when Alilan began business on July 1st, a group of more than 100 people surrounded the shop, claiming to represent all the Lanzhou lamian restaurants in the city. The crowd prevented customers from entering the store, smashed tables and threatened to kill Xian’s relatives unless he closed down his restaurant. To sweeten the offer a bit, they offered him 300,000 RMB to close down.
Xian refused their offer. He had already used up his savings opening up the restaurant, mortgaging his own home to invest a total of 1.5 million RMB in the business.
A man surnamed Ma is the owner of the other two halal beef noodle restaurants nearby. He was one of the organizers behind the protest. Ma told Sixth Tone that Xian had violated the “Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia treaty.” He said the “treaty” had been established two decades ago and that all Muslim beef noodle restauranteurs must abide by the rules — although he admits that it has no actual legal standing. One of the tenets of the treaty is that no Muslim beef noodle shop should be opened within 400 meters of an existing one. Ma added that he also heard that Xian was not a Muslim and therefore unfit to open a halal restaurant.
Xian publicized the dispute on Alilan’s official Weibo account, winning the support of many netizens. The secular majority on the Chinese internet thinks that the “noodle gang” has no right to stop Xian from conducting business because businesses only have to answer to the law, not some unwritten “treaty.” Shanghai residents and people from Xian’s home province have supported his business by dining at Alilan despite the presence of protesters right outside. Xian uploaded photos of his supporters and praised them as upholders of justice.
Alilan remained constantly packed with supportive customers after the dispute went public; however, tensions remained high. On July 18th, Xian reported on Weibo that the “noodle gang” had drove all his customers away on the pretext that they were violating Islamic prohibitions by smoking. Police made no arrests.
Along with calling them the “noodle gang,” many Weibo users have started to call the protesters the “Qinghai noodle mafia.” Some believed that the police refused to take action because the dispute also involved sensitive ethnic issues.
On July 19th, a mediation was held by authorities to resolve the dispute. It was held at a local police station and attended by members of the Ethnic Religious Affairs Committee, official representatives from both Qinghai and Gansu provinces, and the owners of the beef noodle restaurants themselves.
After mediation, Xian was allowed to continue his business on the condition that he removes the halal logo and the word “beef” from the front of his restaurant. The two neighboring beef noodle restaurants have agreed to leave Xian alone and the weeks-long conflict appears to have brought to an end.
The Beijing Morning Post cites a specialist as saying that beef noodles — also known across China as Lanzhou lamian (literally “Lanzhou pulled-noodles”) — were popularized by the Qinghai Hui community beginning in the 1980s, and that a study revealed 60 to 70 percent of the Lanzhou beef noodle restaurants across the country were owned by Qinghai natives. According to a report from Xinhua in March 2016, the “noodle economy” contributed to one-third of Qinghai province’s overall income.
Similar incidents have occurred in the past. Last year a beef noodle restaurant in Shenzhen called the Oriental City Restaurant got into trouble with their local rivals, who also made reference to this unwritten 400-meter-perimeter norm in the high steaks world of beef noodles.
By Victor Fung
[Images via Weibo]