Monday, November 15, 2010

We'll Always Have Kashgar (Not)

I see the Chinese government is bulldozing (sic) ahead with its plan to remake Kashgar and specifically, to eradicate the "ancient quarter," which the New York Times describes as "a 2,000-year-old maze of adobe courtyard homes."   I've actually been in the "ancient quarter" of Kashgar, and I'm ambivalent.  On the one hand, the "ancient quarter" by the 21st Century had been reduced pretty much to a honey pot for tourists.  This is perhaps inevitable under the Heisenberg law of tourism which says that once you go there it isn't there any more.  On the other hand, as honey pots go it was actually an okay honey pot: you got the sense that you were seeing something like what the real ancient quarter had actually looked like, even if it was necessarily powdered and painted up for the arriving throng.  And it certainly was a lot more pleasant than the "modernized" public market which, by my arrival, had already supplanted its ancient counterpart.

Moreover I concede that there may actually be some reason for modern development in Kashgar.  It may be a million miles from nowhere--surely it is farther from Beijing than any other Chinese City?  But it is a strategically located million miles from nowhere, what with being smack on the most obvious trade routes from Pakistan and from Central Asia.  Still, if my experience with American urban renewal (remember Urban Renewal?) is any guide, then the main beneficiaries will be the lizards from Beijing who get to put up the new skyscrapers, probably with  whole lot of government money and a large pourboire of private gain.

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