In light of the coming conference “The City of Kashgar: An Oasis of the Silk Road on the Brink of Extinction” at the European Parliament in Brussels, it is appropriate to reconsider the CCP’s “Kashgar Dangerous House Reform” program and re-assess the impact of this initiative on Uyghur culture and society in general, and on Kashgarliks (residents of Kashgar) in particular.
This project is attracting attention from Uyghurs and the international community not only because mosques, markets and centuries-old houses are scheduled to be razed. In context of the CCP-authored systematic suppression of Uyghurs in China, this project can be seen as a move to evict and scatter the Uyghur population. By destroying the physical spaces where Uyghurs live and congregate to practice their religion and culture, the Uyghur population of Kashgar will be dispersed. The destruction of Kashgar Old City is a tactic to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of Uyghur culture.
Radio Free Asia’s debate and discussion on this issue, “Kashgar’s Vanishing memory,” yielded some insights. The coming conference will contribute to our understanding of the implications of this project. The follow statements are personal observations and considerations on the subject: Similar to other CCP demolition projects that displace and disperse urban minority populations, this project will serve to assimilate non-Han populations. The destruction of traditional communities, without consent, bears all the marks of a divide-and-rule policy. It is well known that Muslim minorities in particular tend to live in a compact area around a mosque (masjid), which is the religious/cultural center of the community. According to precedent in Beijing and other cities, the “remodeling” of a Muslim neighborhood often triggers the dispersal of a concentrated Muslim population. Few former inhabitants return after this “re-modeling” because commercial establishments move in and rent is pushed up. It is likely that many Kashgarliks will relocate to more remote areas or the suburbs of Kashgar after completion of this project.
In the Kashgar case, the demolition of the Uyghur Old City seems destined not only to disperse the Uyghur population and dilute cultural (including religious) practices, but also obfuscate visual ties to traditional Uyghur architectural motifs and designs. These visual elements exist across the nations of Turkish cultural origin, spanning from Xinjiang to Turkey. It is certain that Chinese architects will design the “new” Old City to correspond with Chinese tastes, aside from a small area that antiseptically preserves Uyghur motifs and designs. Perhaps predicting the criticism that would be directed toward the CCP, the Chinese media recently disseminated a story about a “beautiful” 26-year Uyghur architect who is participating in this project.
This project will have the inevitable consequence of depriving Uyghurs of their Islamic religion and Turkic culture. It is not coincidental that in official “scholarship” on Uyghur “terrorism” that the most common bogeymen that the CCP dangles in front of its citizenry are the ideologies of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism. When analyzing the recent “terrorist” acts in Xinjiang, China’s official researchers present no concrete evidence that these two ideologies are at work in Xinjiang. The reality is that Uyghurs are less concerned about unifying the Muslim or Turkish nations than obtaining employment and leading a dignified life. In this context, we can better understand the Kashgar demolition project – it is an attempt to destroy the physical spaces that maintain Uyghur culture, religion and identity. According to CCP politician-scholars, the destruction of Kashgar’s Old City will defeat pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism, two ideological dispositions that are of negligible, perhaps zero, interest to Uyghur society.