Chinese Media Reports on Continued Demolition in Kashgar, Resettlement Numbers Vary

February 2, 2010

Authorities in the far western region of Xinjiang have continued steps to demolish and "reconstruct" the Old City section of Kashgar and relocate residents, according to reports from Chinese media. At the same time, however, one article from overseas media reported that work on the project has stalled. Officials also launched a three-month project in October 2009 to survey cultural heritage in the Old City, almost a year after authorities first started the demolition project. The project has drawn opposition from Uyghur residents and other observers for requiring the resettlement of residents and for undermining heritage protection.

Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) demolished over 4,700 homes in the Old City section of Kashgar city in 2009 as part of an ongoing project to demolish and "reconstruct" the nationally designated historic area, according to reports from Chinese media. As noted in a previous Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis, XUAR authorities launched the five-year project in February 2009 with a stated aim of resettling at least 50,000 households into earthquake-resistant housing. The project has drawn opposition from Uyghur residents and other observers for requiring the resettlement of residents and for undermining heritage protection. Among recent Chinese media reports on the project, statistics on the total number of households resettled have varied, while information on the number of homes demolished appear consistent for the timeframes given in the different articles (cited below). Over 4,000 households were resettled in 2009, according to a January 4 report from China Xinjiang. A December 25 Xinjiang Daily article (via the United Front Work Department) reported that as of that time, authorities had started construction on more than 11,200 residences, and that 11,099 households had moved into new homes. A November 18 article from the Xinjiang News Net described over 700 households moving into new homes. Residents have had the option of moving into new residences that retain traditional features or moving into high rises, according to the Xinjiang News Net article, and some residents have built homes on the same site as their old residences, the Xinjiang Daily article reported. The articles did not provide details on compensation or job opportunities in new housing areas outside the Old City, issues which have drawn concern from local residents, nor did they indicate the total number of people resettled outside the Old City rather than to homes rebuilt on the same location.

While the Chinese media reports suggest demolition and resettlement work has been ongoing throughout 2009, a January 13 article from the Global Post, a non-Chinese media outlet, cited residents who reported that the project slowed following the July 2009 unrest in the XUAR, eventually coming to a halt. The article noted that authorities still continue to publicize the project, including by announcing a level of praise from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that the organization says it has not provided. The article said that roughly 1,000 families reportedly had been resettled to new apartments in the first six months of 2009. (Other recent reports from non-PRC-controlled media have suggested that the demolition is ongoing, but without providing specific details on the status of demolition work in recent months. See, e.g., a December 30 South China Morning Post article (subscription required, also available through Open Source Center, subscription required) and a January 6 report from The Australian.) Following events in July, an August 21, 2009, Xinjiang News Net article reported on increased funding for the project and said that the project had received UNESCO's approval.

The recent news follows a report that Kashgar authorities launched a three-month project in October to survey cultural heritage in the Old City, according to a November 1 Xinhua report. The project was intended to investigate historic homes and structures, according to the article. The report did not explain why authorities launched the preservation effort almost a year after beginning demolition work in the Old City. In the run-up to the launch of the demolition project in 2009, authorities had stressed that "few" buildings in the Old City had real preservation value and that most structures would be demolished. The statements on the number of buildings with preservation value were at odds, however, with outside assessments and earlier official evaluations of the area's cultural heritage, and subsequent reports indicated that historic buildings had been razed. See the previous CECC analysis on the Kashgar demolition and the discussion below for more information on assessments of the Old City's cultural heritage. For reports on subsequent demolitions of historic sites, see, e.g., a June 17, 2009, Radio Free Asia report and the South China Morning Post article.

Two journal articles from previous years lend insight into problems surrounding heritage preservation work and resettlement in Kashgar. A 2007 article by Zhang Qun, an official from the Kashgar Party Committee School, stressed the importance of heritage protection to developing the area's tourist industry, highlighting such problems as a lack of publicity about the city's "harmonious ethnic relations," but Zhang's critique of the tourist industry also illustrated problems in the city's existing system for cultural heritage preservation. Zhang described a failure to attach sufficient attention to heritage protection and noted that as the result of a lack of planning and lack of consciousness toward heritage protection, some areas had lost their historic character. Zhang also noted that efforts to research the area's cultural relics and historic figures were insufficient. (See Zhang Qun, "Thoughts on Developing the Tourist Industry in Kashgar, Xinjiang" [Xinjiang kashi shi luyouye fazhan de sikao], Shishi Qiushi, Number 6, 2007, available via Eastview, subscription required.) In a 2008 article describing earlier, smaller-scale steps to relocate Kashgar residents and reconstruct parts of the Old City, author Gao Xiang wrote that the majority of residents were unwilling to move into new homes and that resettled residents experienced detrimental effects on their livelihoods, which had been tied to jobs in the Old City. The article also noted that the project affected the cultural features of the Old City and that while authorities had restored some residential areas, they charged admission for entry to the renovated areas. (See Gao Xiang, Renewed Research on the Old City of Kashgar, Xinjiang [Xinjiang kashi lao chengqu gengxin yanjiu], Huazhong Architecture, Number 12, 2008, available via Eastview, subscription required.)

For additional information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.