China planning to raze oldest part of Kashgar

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I’ve always had a strange fascination with Xinjiang, the westernmost province of China. It seems an entire world away from the bustle of the east with its megapolises of Beijing and Shanghai, not to mention all the other industrial monstrosities. To me, Xinjiang seems an estranged cousin that is yet somehow still part of China.

Xinjiang, unlike much of the rest of China, has Islam, and entirely different language and ethnic group (Uyghur).

The city of Kashgar is one of the highlights of Xinjiang — a city so historic that it was visited by Marco Polo himself in the 13th century. (About 700 years later The New York Times sent a reporter to the area to write about it from a travel perspective in 1986.)

So, imagine my dismay when I read in today’s Times that the municipality (governed in part by Han Chinese) and Beijing have new plans for the city:

Over the next few years, city officials say, they will demolish at least 85 percent of this warren of picturesque, if run-down homes and shops. Many of its 13,000 families, Muslims from a Turkic ethnic group called the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs), will be moved.

In its place will rise a new Old City, a mix of midrise apartments, plazas, alleys widened into avenues and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture “to preserve the Uighur culture,” Kashgar’s vice mayor, Xu Jianrong, said in a phone interview.

Demolition is deemed an urgent necessity because an earthquake could strike at any time, collapsing centuries-old buildings and killing thousands. “The entire Kashgar area is in a special area in danger of earthquakes,” Mr. Xu said. “I ask you: What country’s government would not protect its citizens from the dangers of natural disaster?”

This is a highly disturbing prospect.

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