Beijing’s Bird’s Nest is home to the Olympic flame, which sits in the middle of a unique cauldron shaped like a large snowflake. It is not an inferno; it comes from one torch. The identity of the lighter that lit it made a significant political statement.

Zhang Yimou, the director of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, had said that the cauldron would be “certainly different” and would surprise people. These were the impressions shared by many — with many asking questions like “Is it it?”

A large snowflake is composed of smaller snowflakes with names from participating countries. While many viewers enjoyed the symbolism, they were often drawn back to a bigger debate about a smaller issue: The cauldron.

The official tweets of the Olympics and Beijing 2022 received a variety of responses. Some people criticised the cauldron while others said it was “innovative” and “inspiring” and they did not call it a cauldron. Instead, they simply stated that the Olympic flame had been lit within the snowflake at the ceremony.

As a torrent of fireworks shot over the Bird’s Nest and the snowflake rose above the stadium floor, the pattern of the Olympic rings was created.

Two young athletes placed the flame in the unusual cauldron: cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang (20), who was born in Xinjiang autonomous, according to her Olympic bio, and Zhao Jiawen (21), who hails Shanxi province. They will compete in Nordic combined, which includes ski jumping and cross-country.

It is a closely guarded secret that the identity of the person lighting the Olympic cauldron remains a mystery. Many experts predicted that China would choose one of the many high-profile gold medalists such as Yang Yang, a retired speedskater, or Zhao Hongbo, a retired pair figure skater.

The U.S. and other members of the international community have repeatedly criticized Beijing’s repressive policies towards the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a native Xinjiangian, was instantly criticized for choosing him to be such a prominent role.

Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group, are the largest Uyghurs. The White House cited China’s ongoing genocide in Xinjiang and crimes against humanity as the reason behind the diplomatic boycott.

Emily Feng, NPR’s Emily Feng reported recently:

“In 2017, authorities in Xinjiang rounded up hundreds and thousands of Uyghurs (a largely Muslim ethnic minority group) and sent them to detention centres where they are taught Mandarin Chinese as well as Chinese political ideology. During their detention, camp detainees were often forced to work in factories or when they are released. Children of detained or arrested people are often sent to state schools even if their relatives will take them in.