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Open Letter to the Government of the People’s Republic of China

From: ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH)
Recognizing the commitment of the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the protection and preservation of its diverse and unique cultural heritage, the members of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) are surprised and concerned by news related to the ongoing demolition and planned reconstruction of the historic center, often called the Old Town of Kashgar (喀什), Xinjiang Province, PRC.

We understand that the main reasons for the proposed redevelopment of the Old Town as

  • Reduction in seismic vulnerability
  • Improvement of living conditions

We applaud both of these vital aims, and understand that a number of important buildings within the Old Town are to be retained. We feel that the best solution may not be the wholesale demolition and reconstruction of large parts of the Old Town, and that such rebuilding would effectively destroy the intangible heritage of the area.

The historic city of Kashgar represents an important point along the historic Silk Route and holds unquestionable universal value as:

  • An interesting example of Islamic town planning: the Old City surrounds and fans out from the historic Id Kah Mosque. The mosque was built around 1442, but established as early as the 10th century, and is the largest mosque in all of China. It is intrinsically tied to the cultural, religious, and ethnic identity of the Uighur community in Kashgar and serves as the physical and religious hub of the Old City;
  • An extensive living urban settlement and architectural landscape that reflects the cultural expression, social interactions, and technical innovation of the local minority Uighur community;
  • One of the largest groupings of historic mudbrick vernacular architecture in Central and East Asia, and probably the world;
  • An important point of cultural, social, economic, and commercial exchange along the Silk Road for centuries.

For these reasons, the members of ISCEAH strongly feel that every effort should be made by local, provincial, and national authorities to preserve this urban center composed largely of mudbrick architecture.

We appreciate the very real concerns of seismic vulnerability, and applaud the motivation to avoid widespread damage and loss of life. ISCEAH is an international professional body dedicated to the preservation of earthen architecture, and is able to provide the most up to date and highest quality methods for seismic analysis and retrofitting of earthen structures. Such work will allow the historic center of Kashgar to better withstand earthquakes, minimize damage, and prevent loss of life, preserving the architecture of Kashgar’s historic center and making it safe for residents and visitors alike.
ISCEAH further recognizes the need for improved living conditions for the residents of Kashgar. We feel that it is possible both to preserve the heritage and improve living conditions without resorting to complete rebuilding.  An example of an earthen settlement where this has been successfully implemented is the city of Shibam, Yemen, a World Heritage Site where efforts to provide economic opportunities for the inhabitants were integrated with architectural upgrades and conservation efforts.

We, the members of ISCEAH, implore the Chinese national and local authorities to undertake the following steps prior to any further demolition:

  • Consideration of tried and proven methods of seismic retrofitting for mudbrick structures to  allow a reappraisal of current plans and preserve as much as possible of the Old City intact;
  • Review of current plans for inhabitant relocation and redevelopment of the area in light of seismic retrofitting and continued sustainable use of the historic city;
  • Development of a Conservation Management Plan. This would delimit the site and design appropriate mechanisms for the protection and conservation of the buildings. Such a plan would include the documentation of the extant structures, including recording and analysis of building types, use, and circulation patterns within the Old City. Such a plan would integrate the preservation of the historic fabric, related intangible heritage, and encourage continued safe and economically viable habitation of the historic urban settlement.

In so doing, local and national authorities will be contributing to the preservation of a unique heritage site that reflects the expression, ingenuity, and accomplishments of the Uighur people, the People’s Republic of China, and all humanity.

ISCEAH looks forward to further discussions and the opportunity for its members to become involved and provide their expertise or the protection of the Old City of Kashgar. Above all, we sincerely hope to avert the irreversible loss of this universally significant cultural heritage site.


Please Help to Protect Kashgar Old Town

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