This article analyses the handling of the Ürümchi riots of 2009, and of the Shaoguan incident which provoked them, from the perspective of ethnic inequality and discrimination. The core argument posits that, in the eyes of the state and many of its Han subjects, pre-1997 dreams of Xinjiang independence represented a precocious attempt to break away from the state patron. As articulated in the PRC constitution and policy documents, the provision of nationality equality in contemporary China is contingent upon the duty to defend the nation-state; with this duty once abandoned, those rights are forfeited. I show how riot targets reflected Uyghur perceptions of increased socio-economic marginalisation since the 1997 Ghulja disturbances, a period characterised by state crackdowns and reduced civil rights. Finally, the article explores the ways in which Chinese leaders have begun, since late 2010, to address the socioeconomic and linguistic-cultural roots of the conflict. In conclusion, I note that long-term peace in the region depends upon effective implementation of existing policies and the authentic devolution of policy-making power to local Uyghur (and other minority nationality) officials and scholars.