The Fall of Kashgar

Savage destruction of old cities is nothing unusual for people living in today’s China. We all have witnessed the fast disappearance of the Hutongs of Beijing and of the Shikumens in Shanghai. These are the most well known examples of what has been happening in China since the 50’s. Commercialization and economic opening have accelerated the process since the late 90’s, fueled by the appetite of mega real estate companies. They eagerly transform century old ways of communication into "Prime real estate location" with great potential return. In the meantime, they forget that the value of the land was mostly created by the generations that walked these streets before, much more than by the cheaply built concrete stacks they added up on the top of it. This is clearly supported by all kind of authorities whose interest in the process varies from genuine (but sometimes misplaced) will to propel people into a brand new world… to more direct lucrative personal interest. Often both are closely intertwined, the former being an excellent excuse for the later.
Kashgar’s case is even more touching, as one can easily feel the ideological touch behind it. Walking in the old city, you fell like you are somewhere between Tehran or Marrakesh, as far away from Beijing as you can be. The last remains of the century old city walls are used as junkyards and old tombs are being surrounded by concrete blocks. A Chinese city that looks totally out of place was created next to the old Kashgar. It is still possible to see really old remains but one really has to look for it out of the fast reducing central old quarter. Most of them are one or two floors buildings surrounded by concrete blocks with blue windows and white tiles… they are scheduled for destruction soon. The most ridiculous of it all is the Aldous Huxley’s Brand New World style new city that is standing empty in the middle of the countryside. Designed to host people living in the old city, it remains unused as the inhabitants refuse to leave traditional habitat. The new argument to move them out is the scare of earthquake, somewhat reminding of the destruction of Bam in Iran in 2003. This is surely a real danger, but I somehow doubt whether the quickly built concrete blocks would resist any better to an earthquake that traditional constructions.
Fast destruction of Kashgar is such a remainder of the fast destruction of my beloved Shanghai. Replacing traditional houses with concrete blocks seems the instant solution to urbanization questions at each end of the country.

3 thoughts on “The Fall of Kashgar”

  1. Your article on the destruction of Kashgar broke my heart, just like the story in the Washington Post at the link below. It seems a bit like Lhasa, Beijing, or Shanghai, or any other Chinese city these days, but Kashgar is so unique. Do you think there is anything that a person outside of China (or inside, for that matter) can do to stop this state plan, or is it planned and thus will be executed, regardless of any opposition??

  2. I wrote this article in September 2007, after a trip to Xin Jiang. The complete destruction of the old city has finally happened. Centuries of history gone in a few months.

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