Goodbye Old Kashgar

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To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It. The city is Kashgar, in the far west of China. I have read that Kashgar is the large city furthest from oceans on all directions. It’s a typical story of developers wanting to develop. You read articles like this about Beijing all the time (or did, I assume that most of the developing to be done has been done). One issue that I’m curious about though, my understanding is that China (and East Asia in general) has fewer buildings of great antiquity than in the West because so much of the monumental architecture was in wood. This results in ancient cities being viewed as relatively ephemeral, with the elements (especially fire) taking what humans don’t eventually tear down and reprocess. So there is very little of the earlier dynasties in the old imperial capital of Xi’an because the complexes of the imperial family and aristocrats were made of wood. Perhaps some of the reporting of how heartless Chinese bureaucrats are in regards to historic buildings suffers from a cultural gap whereby societies which materials like stone assume more permanence to architecture than those which rely in less durable medium such as wood.

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4 Comments

  1. This is right to the point. In Greece, you see more classic building or ruines than Roman ones because Roman buldings were made of bricks which are less durable as stones. Wood is worse than all others. Only place you can see some thousands years old wood buildings is cold and dry northwestern China. A wooden pagoda in northwestern china is example here

  2. Urumqi is generally considered the furthest city from water, not Kashgar. 
     
    It’s less a story of developers wanting to develop than it is a story of China trying to smash the indigenous Uighur culture and further strengthen the Han grip on Xinjiang by sending in Han migrants, just as China is doing to Tibet. See the section of the NYT article about areas deemed unfit for Uighur architecture. The part about Chinese officials suffering sleepless nights over the thought of Uighurs dying in an earthquake is also classic.

  3. Kashgar is one of the areas in China where you’d most expect to find ancient buildings — an entirely different ecology. It’s politically Chinese now but never has been Han (what we mean when we say “Chinese”), and it is much more like a trade city of comparable size in Uzbekistan or even Iran than it is like anything in China proper. 
     
    Political repression is the motive. There’s been unrest among the Uighurs for decades, and the Chinese very fluently capitalized on the 9/11 hysteria to justify escalating their repression.

  4. The obvious reason that the best domestic neolitihic site in Britain is Skara Brae in Orkney is that Orkney has no trees.

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