Planned "urban renewal" for old Kashgar
- This Monday's Globe and Mail had a report on "urban renewal" -style
plans for Kashgar, the Uighur city that is the farthest west town in
China plans massive change in Uyghur cultural capital
Kashgar, China � From Saturday's Globe and MailLast updated on
Saturday, Jul. 11, 2009 01:27PM EDT
Walking through the labyrinthine alleys that snake between the mud-and-
straw homes and handicraft shops at the heart of this ancient city,
it's easy to see that life here has hardly changed for centuries.
Five times a day, holy men climb to the top of their mosques and sing
out the Muslim call to prayer the same way they did in the time of
Mohammed. The homes in Kashgar's Old City are so close together that
there's no need for such newfangled inventions as the loudspeaker.
For more than 1,000 years, this place has resisted the march of
modernity, as have the 220,000 ethnic Uyghurs who call the Old City
home. But under a Chinese government plan to redevelop the city,
massive and irrevocable change is slated to come swiftly to Kashgar,
China's westernmost city and the cultural capital of Xinjiang province.
Over the next few years, more than 10,000 families will be moved out
of the Old City. There homes will be demolished to make room for a new
development of low-rise apartment blocks and streets wide enough to
In the wake of this week's deadly riots that left 184 people dead in
the provincial capital of Urumqi, the future of Kashgar's Old City
looms as the next potential flashpoint between the Uyghurs of Xinjiang
and their Han Chinese rulers.
The government says the Old City is no longer safe to live in, citing
a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Xinjiang six years ago that killed 266
people was felt in Kashgar, even though its epicentre was 200
kilometres away. In 1902, a massive quake did hit the city, killing
The government says families that are moved out of the Old City will
be given money to build new homes and promises the new $440-million
(U.S.) development will maintain an Islamic style of architecture that
hints at the history here.
But that's little consolation to those who will soon be evicted from
homes that their families have lived in for generations.
Opposition to the plan among residents of Kashgar's Old City is quiet
�Kashgar has 2,000 years of history. If these homes are removed, we
lose this,� said Omar Ali, a 36-year-old pottery maker who sells his
wares to the foreign and Chinese tourists who still flock to the
famous Silk Road oasis. Other residents sell handmade scarves, prayer
hats and copper pots, plying the same trades in the same buildings
that their ancestors did.
Some locals see the government's plan as an attack on Uyghur identity.
�Beijing has the Great Wall, Kashgar has the Old City. If we don't
preserve the architecture, how can we understand the history of the
nation?� said a young Uyghur man who works in the Old City as a tour
guide. Fearing repercussions, he asked that his name not be printed.
Even without the plan to demolish the Old City, the situation is tense
here following the riots in Urumqi. Thousands of soldiers have poured
into the city in recent days, patrolling the streets in long convoys
of green trucks draped with red banners proclaiming their mission �to
maintain the stability of society and the border region.� Military
helicopters kept watch from the sky.
The city's main Id Kah mosque has been closed since Sunday, when some
200 Uyghurs gathered for a brief protest that ended when police moved
in and began arresting participants.
The few foreign journalists in Kashgar yesterday were taken from their
hotel rooms and escorted to the airport just before noon prayers. �You
must leave the city, for your own safety, for your own good,� said a
man who identified himself as a local government official told The
Globe and Mail, before arranging a police escort to the airport. �The
situation may look calm now, but it could change at any second.�
Flights out were delayed, however, by a steady stream of incoming
military aircraft unloading more soldiers who boarded buses heading
into the city. Some of the troop-carrying planes came from as far away
as the Pacific Ocean port of Shenzhen.
Even without the recent unrest, the government knows it has a tough
sales job on its hands with the Old City redevelopment plan,
especially in the charged environment following the Urumqi riots.
�Because many houses were built privately without any approval, the
life of residents is not convenient and the capability against
earthquakes and fire is weak,� a report in the state-run local media
said recently. �Our target is every family has a house, every family
has employed members and the economy will be developed.�
Today's Kashgar no longer has the Silk Road traffic of previous eras,
but it very much remains a crossroads of cultures with traders and
travellers arriving from nearby Pakistan and Central Asia. The city
was linked by rail to the rest of China in 1999, preceding an influx
of Han Chinese that has escalated tensions with the local Uyghurs.
The Han Chinese community lives outside of the Old City, in apartment
blocks that stretch south of the city's main square, which is
dominated by a large statue of Mao Zedong.
Local Uyghurs challenge the government's assertion that people must be
moved out of the Old City because of the danger of an earthquake,
arguing that because the homes there are made of mud and straw, they
would be less likely than modern concrete buildings to kill
inhabitants in the event of a collapse.
While simple in appearance on the outside, homes in the Old City are
often quite elegant on the inside, with rooms grouped around a central
courtyard. Some are quite spacious, housing three or more generations
of the same family. Astonishingly, the centuries-year old site has
never been added to the UNESCO world heritage list because China has
never applied to have it certified.
In a 2008 book called Kashgar: Oasis City on China's Old Silk Road ,
architect and historian George Michell called the Old City �the best-
preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere
in Central Asia.� Nevertheless, that example has been under attack for
Mr. Michell made his assessment long after Chinese authorities had
torn down much of the ancient city wall, a 10-metre-high earth berm,
and paved over its moat in the 1980s to create a ring highway. It
later tore down homes to build Liberation Street, a wide boulevard
that bisects the Old City in two.
�I can't understand why no international organization like UNESCO is
doing anything to save this,� said Marica de Goti, a 23-year-old
Italian tourist who visited the Old City this week with two friends.
Most residents expected they would have little choice but to leave
when the government eventually came knocking.
�We are just ordinary people, and the government is the government,�
said an old woman with gold teeth, knitting a traditional Uyghur cap
in her living room while at the same time keeping an eye on her
rambunctious infant grandson. �If they say move, we will have to move.�
2/3 of Kashgar�s Old Town Bulldozed
May 13, 2009 in News You Can Use, What We're Reading by Emma | No
WildChina�s local partners in Xinjiang have confirmed details in an
article written by Paul Mooney in The National on the recent
destruction of 2/3 of Kashgar�s Old Town. Over the past few weeks,
bulldozers have moved into the area, tearing down large swaths of the
Old Town, a place 40% of Kashgar�s residents had called home.
Kashgar�s Old Town
According to our partners, the Old Town is not being completely torn
down - one part will remain as a historic site, complete with entrance
fee to enter. A small pocket of the �authentic� Old Town will also
While it�s certain that the Old Town section of Kashgar shared many of
the same infrastructure problems as Beijings hutong neighborhoods (see
previous post for more information), it was also a vibrant heart of
the city where many ethnic Uighurs lived and worked.
I personally think it�s unfortunate that, in this case, the cost of
modernization was the destruction of a historic quarter and way of
life. However, Kashgar will remain a fascinating and lively part of
Xinjiang. Despite the news, I can�t wait to visit.
Montreal QC Canada
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- It's the same thing they did to Beijing.
When I was there in 1990, most of the city was low-rise, and bicycles
were the primary mode of transportation, although you could see
skyscrapers under construction.
Recent footage I've seen of Beijing shows a typical modern city with
skyscrapers and freeways.
The excellent movie "Shower" portrays the effect of these changes on a
traditional neighborhood, as the customers of a local bathhouse are
forced to relocate and sever their social ties.