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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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Kasghar

Veranda in Kashgar’s Old City

Veranda in Kashgar’s Old City

Historical context
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.

Kashgar is also very meaningful to the history of Western explorers in the late Qing Dynasty 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.

Pressures on Kashgar
General challenges

Kashgar Old Town is facing challenges similar to those facing the preservation of Beijing Old City:

  • 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.

Reconstruction project

On February 27 2009, Kashgar local government started to mobilize all the possible social resources to give full support to a reconstruction project. CHP was unable to obtain any details of the reconstruction plan. CHP could only find that, according to one government announcement, the Old Town reconstruction plan was approved by the State Council, and according to this initial plan, the local government will 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 its open letter to the government of China, the International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) cited several reasons why Kashgar ‘holds unquestionable universal value’, one of which is that the Old City is one of the largest groupings of historic mudbrick vernacular architecture in Central and East Asia, and probably the world.

Not only does the proposed plan for demolition contravene China’s obligations under international convention, but it also violates China’s own legal requirements for protection of cultural heritage. The Chinese government as early as 1986 had already registered Kashgar as a national-level ‘historical and cultural famous city’. As such, it is legally protected by both China’s Law for Cultural Heritage Protection and Regulations on Historical and Cultural Cities, Towns, and Villages, with strict requirements for keeping the city’s authenticity intact.

CHP’s work

CHP did not have much success in using conventional methods to impede the development plan, so resorted to mobilizing well-respected media to play a significant role in protecting the city. The collaborating media included Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, and the New York Times, to name a few, who published articles criticizing the plan. CHP has received great support from various international organizations who learned about the Old Town Kashgar destruction plan from these articles.

CHP also wrote a commentary about Kashgar for Orientations.

To protect the Old Town of Kashgar, CHP hope’s the local government of Kashgar will take the following actions:

  1. Reveal to the public the Urban Plan of Kashgar
  2. Follow the 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.

The current status of Kashgar

Although the Xinjiang government still has not ceased the development, it has received tremendous pressure domestically and internationally to reassess its plan.

CHP articles about Kashgar

Kashgar in the media

【2010-2-01】Smithsonian Magazine | Demolishing Kashgar’s History

【2009-09-28】Orientations | Saving Kashgar

【2009-08-10】The Independent | Showdown at the crossroads of the world

【2009-07-03】Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty | China’s Ancient Silk Road City Of Kashgar Facing Threat Of Bulldozers

【2009-05-27】The New York Times | To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It

【2009-04-24】Bloomberg | Nonprofit Group Appeals to China to Reassess Plan for Kashgar

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.
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