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Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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Please Help to Protect Kashgar Old Town

The Future of Kashgar

Kashgar is located in the southwest of Xinjiang. Its Old Town has a recorded history of 2100 years. The existing historical neighborhood was formed mainly during the 1600s, and many of the buildings are over 400 years old. The mazelike streets and lanes, and historical buildings, surround the town center at Atiguor Mosque. Chinese scholars consider it the only surviving Muslim old town with central Asian influence, and UNESCO experts regard it as the most important trade center along the ancient Silk Road. Without Kashgar Old Town, the application for the Silk Road to be registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site cannot be justified. Kashgar is also very meaningful to the history of Western explorers in the late Qing Dyasty and early Republican eras. Its significant cultural value was recognized by the Chinese government in 1986, when it was first pronounced as a national level historical city. So Kashgar Old Town should be preserved carefully in accordance with government regulations, Communist Party policy and Chinese law.

The preservation of Kashgar Old Town is facing challenges similar to those facing the preservation of Beijing Old City, and Lhasa Old Town:

  • irrational real estate development
  • over-exploited tourism industry
  • removal of local residents
  • lack of sufficient infrastructure
  • low awareness
  • improper management by local officials.

Due to its relatively distant location, information on these challenges and issues is very hard to come by. Therefore, there is little monitoring and criticism on the poor preservation work of the local government. But Kashgar is under a more severe threat than is faced by either Lhasa or Beijing. The current “Old Town Reconstruction Project for Old and Dangerous Houses” impels us to appeal to every party involved to help save Kashgar Old Town.

On February 27 this year, Kashgar local government started to mobilize all the possible social resources to give full support to this reconstruction project. According to local news reports, the party secretary of Kashgar, Mr. Zeng Cun, had specifically requested every citizen to be cooperative to guarantee the smooth implementation of the government’s old town reconstruction plan, and every government official to proactively support each other, forming a powerful driving force. CHP is unable to obtain any details of the reconstruction plan. We can only find that, according to one government announcement, the Old Town reconstruction plan has been approved by the State Council, and according to this initial plan, the local government is going to renovate and reconstruct 5,070,000 square meters of old houses, home to 49,000 families.

As a two thousand year old town, Kashgar lacked proper maintenance, and did not have infrastructure improvements for decades, and as a result, many houses are collapsing, so it is indeed very necessary to improve the living environment, and reinforce the stability of the old houses. But to carry out such a large scale infrastructure improvement and old house reconstruction plan, more detailed working plans are needed, and these plans must follow the urban plan produced to protect the historical city. Unfortunately, CHP did not find any such working plan, not even the official preservation urban plan. In 2007, the Construction Department of Xinjiang organized a group of experts to participate in a seminar to make an assessment of this preservation urban plan produced by the Urban Design Institute of Tianjin University. This urban plan is both for the historical preservation of Kashgar, as well as for the old neighborhood. At this seminar, experts gave three comments for improvements:

  1. The urban plan should focus more on how to preserve the old town
  2. The urban plan should further study the history of the old town
  3. The urban plan should further study how to protect both tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

From July 2008, China started to implement the Regulation on the Historical and Cultural City, Town and Villages. According to the 18th clause of this regulation, the urban plan of Kashgar Old Town should be publicized in timely fashion. To protect the Old Town of Kashgar, we hope the local government of Kashgar will take the following actions:

  1. Reveal to the public the Urban Plan of Kashgar
  2. Followthe suggestions raised by experts during the assessment seminar
  3. Ensure that the working plan is in accordance with the guidelines for the protection of Kashgar Old Town.

Finally, we would like to appeal once again, to everyone, to help us with the protection of Kashgar Old Town. Considering the fact that Silk Road is applying for UNESCO Heritage Site status, and Kashgar is an important part of it, we ask UNESCO to give special attention to the preservation of Kashgar Old Town.

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