14 July 2011

The New Kashgar

So I'm always griping about China being called a world power when so many people who live in China live without basic necessities.  But it's not quite fair for me to imply that China isn't doing anything about it, because it does spend a lot of money on infrastructure. They just don't spend it where I want them to spend it.

A good example of this is Kashgar (where I have not been and keep trying to figure out a way to get there; I could be there tomorrow if there wasn't an international border).  Kashgar is a very ancient city in western China with a majority Uyghur population.  Historically it has not usually been part of China and it's still very much on the edge of China.  It also has a bit of a reputation for housing Uyghur separatists which doesn't exactly make the Chinese government happy.

The government has decided to reconstruct a significant part of Kashgar.  There is good reason for this; much of the old city would fall apart if there were an earthquake in the region, and there are relatively few modern conveniences (like water) available.  Those are concerns very worth addressing.  However, the government's solution is to demolish and rebuild.

There are several problems with this.  Obviously a vital part of Kashgar's cultural heritage is being lost, but even more, it's unlikely the Kashgar's Uyghur residents will end up back on their old land in new, safer, (and boring) buildings.  Throughout China when old cities, towns, and neighborhoods have been demolished for new construction, the original inhabitants aren't able to stay.  It's too expensive, or they can't wait around for a new building.  I don't know if this will happen in Kashgar, but if other parts of China can serve as an example, it's likely that Kashgar will have much higher Han population as a result of the reconstruction.  Safer in every way, I'm sure, from the government's point of view.

And can we have a little chat about the new construction?  Generally tried-and-true building styles develop over centuries of a town's existence.  Courtyard-style homes like they have in Kashgar are excellent for warm climates.  High-rise buildings are not, unless you can afford good air conditioning (and the plumbing works well).  I've learned that this summer with our Russian-style house.  It's designed for cold winters and mild summers, not the 40-degree weather that so many Russian-style homes in Central Asia sit in.  There's often a reason why people build the way they do. 

I think it's entirely possible for China to make Kashgar a safer, more efficient city without demolishing so much of it.  I just wish there were a reason for the Chinese government to want to do that.

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