Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Manifest Destiny

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I wonder how deeply the commentators of this Times article on China’s handling the Uighur old city of Kashgar feel in their sense of liberal humanism.

I mean, on the one hand, it’s smack dab on the forefront of China’s reputation of bulldozing (oftentimes quite literally, at least when it’s not bombing them) the traditions and institutions of its ethnic minorities, most evidenced by making every city, town and village straight to Kazakhstan look like Newark, NJ. After all, Kashgar’s known for having a lot of Uighur dissidents to the Chinese Community Party.

This seems to be a lot of what the commentators seem to note, taking the architectural loss to be a parable of the destruction of the culture. But they keep heading back to the topic of tourism, and that irks me; like they care for the Uighurs only in the sense that their “habitat” might not be there for future visits – for them to look and leave.

It may be an unfair picture I’m painting of the commentators, but they first struck me as somewhat bourgeois humanists – like how the environmentalist movement was started by people who drive everywhere and run air conditioning, this movement to preserve the cultural and architectural heritage of these aboriginals is run by people who live in modern apartments. I did a double-take as Kituwah to read Americans decrying China for Manifest Destiny.

The story in this, to me, on the other hand, is not so much the loss of the architectural layout of the old city, but the inadequate compensation for its citizens. This isn’t an anthropological parable; this is a public advocacy piece. Cities get renewed constantly: Italy, as a first world country, has been trying to save its cultural heritage as well, what with a recent earthquake, but its people come first. The story might as well be set in Newark.

I’m not saying so much that the Chinese government is necessarily working in good faith with the Uighur citizenry – indeed, this sounds like an excuse to develop on cheap land – but at the same time at least they’re building apartment buildings, if boring ones, which is more than I can say for this government.

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