The Old City district of Lhasa.
DHARAMSHALA, May 11: Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser has made a desperate appeal to save the ancient Tibetan capital city Lhasa from what she calls “frightful ‘modernisation,’” constituting “an unpardonable and incalcuable crime against the ancient city of Lhasa’s landscape, human culture, and environment.”
In a petition written earlier this month, which went viral on Wiebo
and was quickly censored, the award-winning Tibetan writer noted that China is changing the face of Lhasa by building a new shopping mall in the heart of the Old City, “thoroughly clearing” the circumambulation path around the Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest shrine.
The letter, ‘Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!’ was reposted on her blog, Invisible Tibet
, and has been translated into English
The Barkhor Shopping Mall, once completed, would cover an area of 150,000 sq m and have more than 1,000 underground parking spaces, according to its developer.
The Barkhor: the circumambulation road around the Jokhang.
“From the “Engineering Survey” for the “Barkhor Shopping Mall” we can see that the goal of the renovation of the Barkhor quarter is to ‘cleanse, disperse, transform and elevate,’” Woeser writes in the letter. “And the reality that is to be understood by this is that the reconstruction of the Old City is to be divided into several large parts: the heart of the Old City, the circumambulation path around the Jokhang is to be thoroughly cleared. All the street peddlers are to be moved inside the newly-built “Barkhor Shopping Mall.” All of the residents originally living along the street are to be moved to Tolung Dechen County in the western suburb of Lhasa; those households that move quickly can get a subsidy of between 20,000 and 30,000 RMB. Not moving will be a political problem.”
She further states that the destruction of the ancient city of Lhasa, the oldest part of which date back to the 7th century, is taking place on other streets and allies in the Old City as well, such as the space in front of the Ramoche temple where big public squares are to be opened up and the surrounding households are to be moved to the suburbs.
Woeser laments that the Old City will never again be the street of those Tibetans who circumambulate, come on pilgrimage, and prostrate themselves.
“And now, the area in front of the Jokhang, which has borne witness to so much change over the ages, has no more of the pilgrims from Kham and Amdo who prostrate themselves all the way from the far borders to Lhasa; no more lamp pavilions in which thousands and tens of thousands of butter lamp offerings were lit every day,” she writes.
A display image of the Barkhor Shopping Mall, currently under construction.
“Only snipers poised on the roofs of Tibetans’ homes, and fully armed soldiers on patrol; only the opening of one massive government-business sector joint venture shopping mall after another, each with inflatable blood-red plastic columns before their doors, flaunting the vulgarity and invasiveness of these new upstart operations.”
Woeser, in her letter, calls on UNESCO, Tibetologists, and other organisations to stop China’s frightful “modernisation” and pay close attention to the “unredeemable misfortune that is befalling the Old City of Lhasa right at this very moment.”
Responding to Woeser’s appeal, nearly 1000 people have already signed a petition
urging Kishore Rao, Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre to use his position and influence to stop China's “willful destruction of the old city of Lhasa.”