Yes, a government — and not ours — is actually making that case, in so many words. Not that the Chinese Communists have ever displayed much of a sense of irony (or shame). It is a great pity, because Kashgar, the city in Western China that they are razing as fast as possible, is a fascinating, authentic, and ancient place. It sits on the Silk Route, of exotic legend and mystery, which is much more accessible now than it has ever been, to the only moderately intrepid.
The Chinese government’s rationale for destroying ancestral homes, streets, and neighborhoods, and replacing them with modern apartments, is fear of imminent earthquake. That seems a little far-fetched. Not that earthquakes aren’t a problem in the area, just that the Chinese have a very strong history of indifference. And reinforcing, wiring, plumbing, and fixing up ancient quarters, alleys, and entire cities is possible when there is a will and some cash. The investment is usually well-rewarded by tourist dollars.
Approximately a million people a year visit Kashgar now, few of whom will be interested if it comes to resemble the other formerly beautiful Central Asian capitals which were so thoroughly modernized and uglified by the Soviets. So we can conclude that this is a politically motivated attempt to destroy Uighar culture. To be sure, there is a pretty long-standing Uighar independence movement, comprised of Chinese Muslims who don’t really like the one-child policy, or the fact that they are largely excluded from the benefits of modernization, such as better education and health care. (The Uighars don’t especially like us, either.) Not that we have a dog in this fight, but given the givens, it’s worth rooting for the Uighars against the Chicoms.
Since the destruction of an ancient city is a cultural matter, the U.N. World Heritage committee should spring to action here. Or maybe the new guy who was just nominated to head UNESCO — the Egyptian Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, could maybe take a break from proclaiming his dreams of burning Hebrew/Israeli books, to actually fight to save an important Muslim architechtural and cultural treasure. No, don’t hold your breath.