The Old City district of Lhasa.
DHARAMSHALA, May 18: The exile Tibetan administration has expressed its deep concern over the “so-called ‘face-lift project’” currently underway in Barkhor and the old town area of Tibet’s ancient capital city of Lhasa.
The Dharamshala based Central Tibetan Administration in a press statement Thursday accused China of planning to completely transform the historical and religiously significant area at the heart of Lhasa.
“Apparently, for this project China is investing 196 million US dollar to upgrade “infrastructure” in the old town of Lhasa,” the CTA said. “However, according to recent reports, it confirms that the actual plan is to completely transform the Jokhang and Barkhor area which is of great spiritual and cultural heritage of Tibetans for more than a thousand year, into a superficial tourist spot.”
The exile Tibetan administration renewed its calls for the UNESCO to include Jokhang and Barkhor area in the World Heritage list and “strongly urged the Chinese leadership to stop destructing one of the last remnants of spiritual, cultural and social centre of Tibet.”
Beijing based Tibetan writer, Woeser, had earlier exposed China’s plans
of constructing a shopping mall in the old town of Lhasa, which once completed would cover an area of 150,000 sq m and have more than 1,000 underground parking spaces.
“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,” Woeser wrote on her blog.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred independent and institutionally-affiliated specialists in various fields of Tibetan Studies have expressed “grave concern over the rapidly-progressing destruction of much of the traditional architectural heritage of the Old City of Lhasa and its environs” in a letter addressed
to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Irina Bukova, Director-General of UNESCO.
The scholars have said that the destruction of “irreplaceable structures” that in some cases have stood for centuries is “causing injury to aspects of the cultural and religious practices of Tibetans from various walks of life” and has brought “the forced displacement of large numbers of Tibetans from their own homes, effectively diminishing the Tibetan presence in one of the most important Tibetan cultural sites.”
“Modernisation and preservation need not be mutually exclusive,” the scholars write in the petition. “There are culturally sensitive ways to modernise ancient city quarters and preserve traditional buildings. But what is happening in the Old City of Lhasa appears first and foremost to have been undertaken with commercial rather than cultural goals in mind.”
The Tibet scholars are requesting for independent investigative teams from both China and from UNESCO to be dispatched to Lhasa and report whether local officials and business interests have violated the responsibilities incumbent upon China through its participation in UNESCO.
“Most importantly we ask that UNESCO provide a clear-cut plan outlining what needs to be done immediately to preserve the Old City of Lhasa, to halt the current destruction, and to prevent Lhasa from being turned into an early 21st-century tourist town, shorn of its uniqueness and its innate traditional culture.”