URUMQI, Xinjiang – As we drove through the empty streets of Urumqi, I was immediately reminded of the unrest in the Tibetan capital Lhasa last year – but with one key difference.
Here, in the remote capital of China's northwestern Xinjiang province, there were few pedestrians, truckloads of armed police, smashed windows, and lots of scared people – just like in Lhasa in March 2008 when 22 people were killed, according to official numbers.
In Urumqi, officials have said that 156 people were killed and more than 1,100 injured as a result of the violent ethnic riots between the Uighurs and Han Chinese on Sunday.
|VIDEO: Tensions high in Western China|
But what separates Urumqi from Lhasa is the deep sense of hate between this region's two majority ethnic groups: the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs and the Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China as a whole.
"I'd like to kill some Uighurs too! They've killed so many innocent Hans!" said one Han passerby when were filming in a downtown street.
In response to Sunday's riots, hundreds of Han Chinese took up their own weapons on Tuesday and marched through the streets seeking revenge, chanting slogans like "Defend our country!"
Han Chinese have also been expressing their anger at the Western media that they perceive as overly sympathetic toward the Uighurs in their reporting.
While we were wandering down Urumqi's main road filming closed shops and armed police, a young Han Chinese man followed us and continuously cursed for about five minutes.
"I hate these f*&%&*% Western reporters," he said with his fists clenched. "They only support the killers, they support separatism and lie all the time."
|SLIDESHOW: Clashes erupt in China's far west|
Another Han Chinese man stepped in while we were trying to interview a young Uighur man. "Why are you interviewing him? He doesn't represent us!" the Han Chinese man shouted.
When I told him we would interview him after, he refused and told me that Americans, journalists and politicians should not interfere in China's business.
As we walked down the street trying to resume our previous conversation with the Uighur man, the Han Chinese man became more agitated and started to make phone calls. I was not sure if he was calling his friends to join him, so I abandoned the interview out of safety concerns. I could still feel his furious stares even as we walked further down the road.
The exact number of Han Chinese and Uighurs killed in the violence remains a mystery; officials have not released an ethnic breakdown of those killed.
Han Chinese people and their properties were the main targets when the Uighurs rioted on Sunday, angered over the alleged murder of two Uighur workers at a toy factory in southern China last month.
"You know why there're so many armed police in the streets now? They want to prevent us from taking revenge!" said another angry Han Chinese man as he shook his head. "I just can't believe how those Uighurs just murder so many innocent Hans. Are they animals? If they are animals, they ought to be wiped out."
Is Xinjiang – a sprawling, oil rich territory that borders several strategic Central Asian countries and makes up a sixth of China's land – becoming divided along ethnic lines? Whether its communism, Islam, capitalism, independence or ethnic unity that people believe in, all they can express right now is anger.
And nobody knows how much time Urumqi, an ethnically mixed city just four hours by flight from Beijing, will need to heal from all the violence.