The last days of Old Kashgar

Somehow it completely passed me by that in 2009-2010 the Chinese government took a bulldozer to one of its great cultural treasures. Stefan Geens managed to dash in when the job was half done and documented what became of Kashgar.

Other cities across Central Asia have received similar treatment, some before and some after receiving their UNESCO World Heritage status. Kashgar was supposed to be one of the last major, ancient urban centres to retain its domestic architecture and urban fabric, and now it’s gone, erased by the Chinese government just as surely as it could have been by any earthquake or volcano or wave (it’s about as far as you can get from the sea on Earth, BTW).

Here’s his flickr set. One of the crowning ironies for me is that other cities, under Soviet and post-Soviet tutelage, have also erased their fabric, while leaving the big showy mosques intact. And shorn of their context, the mosques seem really strange. The delightful, important thing about a mosque courtyard is its openness in the middle of a teeming city. Take the city away and you have a collection of empty eggshells. Which kinda seem to act as metaphors for Islam under the socialist empires. Bukhara, which I did visit, and Khiva and Samarkand, which I didn’t get to, have suffered museumification of this kind, but those were the lucky cities – Tashkent was torn down by imperial invaders, Ashgabat and Astana were gutted by their post-Soviet dictators to be remade as swagger projects of modernity.  And now there goes another one. And there won’t ever be another of the same scale or antiquity or importance.

So thanks, PRC. You’ve achieved at Kashgar what Genghis Khan did at Merv.


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