Ancient Kashgar destroyed for “safety reasons”

Uyghur men in Kashgar souk
Uyghur men in Kashgar souk

By Alison Bate

When I visited Kashgar just over three years ago, I was disappointed at first.

The road in from the airport passed concrete roundabouts and boring buildings typical of the modern Han Chinese city. There was even a giant Mao statue close to the bus station.

Kashgar's Id Kah Mosque in winter

Kashgar's Id Kah Mosque in winter

While Kashgar – or Kashi as the Han Chinese call it – is inside China, people don’t visit the city to see its Chinese culture. 

Like me, they come to see the ancient Silk Road city famous for its Uyghur market, rabbit-warren streets, donkey carts and the largest mosque in China.

The Uyghurs are Muslims speaking a language similar to Turkish, and their way of living is totally different from the Han Chinese. They eat nan bread rather than rice, don’t drink (or aren’t supposed to) and in their traditional homes, sleep and entertain on raised areas covered in carpets. And the city, close to the border with Kyrgystan and Kazakhstan, is surrounded by barren mountains that have more in common with central Asia and Mongolia than anywhere else.

Three years ago, even though some of Kashgar’s charm was already being whittled away, there was still a solid core of traditional streets, mosques and artisan shops.

But now the whole ancient core is being bulldozed, according to a New York Times report last week. Authorities say that demolition is needed because an earthquake could strike at any time, collapsing centuries-old buildings and killing thousands.

The irony of destroying a historic city to make it safer is not lost on the New York Times, which headlines the story: “To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It”.

Having travelled around a lot of western China as well as Tibet, it’s easy to see that the Chinese authorities have a standard blueprint of what to do with a old city. They clear out any traditional ethnic buildings in the city centre, and replace them with a People’s Square, police station and boring apartment buildings.

What’s happening in Kashgar follows a well-established Chinese pattern, and to be fair, the Chinese authorities apply it to cities with a Han Chinese majority as well.

Whether the decision to raze Kashgar is political or simply the Chinese passion for replacing the old with the new, the end result is nothing less than tragic.

3 thoughts on “Ancient Kashgar destroyed for “safety reasons”

  1. Ismet Cinemre

    Dear Alison

    I am not sure if you refered ‘Uyghurs’ as Chinese Muslims on the basis of citizenship. Because, their ethnic background is ‘Turkic’ in my knowledge.


    Ismet Cinemre

  2. alisonbate Post author

    Hi Ismet. Yes, I did mean Chinese on the basis of citizenship. But I can see this might well be a sensitive issue to Uyghurs, so I’ve revised the post. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. hkarges

    Yes, in their blind rush to a world leadership role China seems to want to show the world nothing but squeaky clean modern construction that leaves their own people nothing but factory jobs to sustain them. I saw the same thing in Xishaungbanna (Sip Song Pan Na) a decade ago, the old town being bulldozed wholesale around me. They don’t seem to realize that the hallmark of civilization is respect for history… and ethnic minorities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s