Cynics of development often joke that the name "China" comes from the word "拆那" (chai-na), or "tear that down." Recent events in Kashgar, as many news outlets already have announced, reflect this reckless attitude. In the past several months, the character 拆-- scrawled in black paint-- has been appearing on the mud-brick walls of Kashgar's Old Town, a collection of tightly cluttered Uyghur houses, some hundreds of years old. Indeed, the Chinese state has condemned these buildings in a $440-million-dollar plan to demolish and replace some 85% of the historic district with modern apartments, public schools, and open plazas. Likewise, the government will relocate nearly 200,000 residents to new flats on the city's outskirts. The local tourism bureau will then preserve what remains of the Old Town as an
ethnic zoo outdoor museum.
This is not the first time historic Kashgar has been assaulted by modernity, nor will it be the last. A main thoroughfare now cuts through the heart of the Old Town past Id Kah Mosque, the largest in all of China. A towering statue of Chairman Mao, also the largest in all of China, salutes Kashgar over the city square. A creaky Ferris Wheel disrupts the skyline of precariously stacked homes. The government, however, has defended bulldozing much of this district by pointing to issues of safety-- houses are overcapacity, many of them without plumbing or electricity. More importantly, officials invoke the memories of last year's Wenchuan disaster to warn Kashgar's denizens; most of these structures would collapse in a major earthquake. A drastic overhaul, they say, is desperately needed. (Nevermind the fact that in Shanghai this week, a very modern thirteen-story building completely fell over, without the help of any tremors.)
Nonetheless, others believe that China fears these warren-like neighborhoods, which supposedly breed conspiracies of separatism and violence. As The New Dominion writes, the state regards social space as instruments of governmentality; what it cannot apprehend must be done away with, and by refashioning organic sprawl into regimented compartments, it can monitor and mold more obedient citizens. Thus, this project interrupts the social cohesion that ties the traditional Uyghur community together-- the narrow networks of transportation traversed by donkeys and scooters, webs of commerce conducted between small businesses and their customers, pockets of respite reserved for unveiled women. These connections will be severed, and when they meet again, they will have reconstituted Uyghur identity in a way that we may have never seen before... or what we have already witnessed in rebuilt cities like Korla, Turpan, and Urumqi.
Other websites obviously have given this issue far better thought than what I have repeated here. What the new order will bring is less clear because none of these sources mention what will physically rise from the rubble. As far as I know, no one has posted official plans yet, only mere descriptions. Besides taking the first two photographs above, my friend CCG, however, had the prescience to document this billboard while walking around Kashgar, which describes the building proposal for Chasa Street (恰萨街). Basically, in this plan, the city will straighten the major pathways within the block. The first story, comprised of neatly squared stores, will attempt to replace the current commercial district in the area. Now, people must pass through a labyrinth of homes in order to reach the inner core, but in the future, anyone will be able to access these shops easily from the street. The project aims to cover the entire first floor with a roof, which will eliminate the traditional sunlit courtyards of Uyghur houses. Instead, I guess that street lamps will light these alleyways, which is so very environmentally friendly. A grassy surface will top the first floor. Four outdoor staircases, one from each major road, will lead to this second level, which opens to four lawns and possibly a central fountain, all enclosed by five-story apartment buildings. Finally, the project offers eight different types of apartment layouts. This plan organizes social life vertically, instead of horizontally, which dramatically cuts down on daily interactions. To illustrate this point, I have this memory from college my freshman year, where I lived in a dormitory connected by hallways, while my friends lived in apartments connected by stairwells. The camaraderie felt in my dormitory versus theirs was palpable and infectious, and it is that same camaraderie that may disappear in Kashgar.
Translated from Uyghur:
Reconstruction Plan for Hazardous Housing in Kashgar's Old Town, Chasa Street
The red areas represent residential areas. Stores will occupy the entire first floor, while apartments will take up the other five floors above. Safety is guaranteed in these apartments. They are easily convertible, with many different layouts to choose from. The first floor is for stores. The office designed everything to maximize space and convenience for the owner. All the buildings will be surrounded by roads, which will facilitate commerce. Each store is furnished with two doors. Also, the buildings will be decorated in the style of traditional Uyghur architecture, in order to attract more visitors.
Commercial Area, First Floor:
Overall Apartment Plan:
Individual Apartment Layout, Façade, and Aerial View: