Concerns and questions about developments in Lhasa A. Concerns and Questions B. Relevant Background Information: i) Description and Identification of the World Heritage Historic Ensemble ii) Outstanding Universal Value, Integrity and Authenticity of the Ensemble iii) Protection and Management of the Ensemble iv) Extracts from the procedure for inscribing a property on the list of “World Heritage in Danger”
C: Appendices: I) “Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” by Tsering Woeser. II) Photos of the work taken from Tsering Woeser’s Blog. III) Google Map overlays showing location of proposed Shopping Mall, including boundaries of Jokhang Temple Buffer Zone (courtesy of Robert Barnett) IV) International Campaign for Tibet Report in full.
A: Concerns & questions: Introduction: The rapid urban development of Lhasa has in many cases taken place at the expense of numerous historic buildings and the absence of aesthetic charm. There has been no mission to Lhasa by the World Heritage Centre and its advisory bodies since 2005, at which time the Mission report expressed considerable concerns about “Uncontrolled urban development and expansion of tourism-related facilities in and adjacent to the boundary of the property;” and “Negative impact of the rehabilitation projects on the protection of the traditional urban tissue of the historic centre.” The concerns below are drawn from the 4 May 2013 blog of award-winning, Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser (see Appendices I & II; at no point does she indicate that the Jokhang Temple itself is under threat of demolition). Information about the exact extent of the work being carried out in Lhasa, including in the historic area, is difficult to obtain due to the official crackdown and restrictions on information imposed by the Chinese authorities. Other expert bodies such as the Tibet Heritage Fund are no longer able to operate in Lhasa. We recommend that a further mission should be a matter of urgency. At the 35th World Heritage Committee in 2011, the Committee “reiterated its request to the State Party to submit the drafts of [Conservation Master Plans] to the World Heritage Centre, before their finalisation and enactment by the competent authorities, for review by the Advisory Bodies.” At the 2012 World Heritage Committee, China was also requested to submit, by 1 February 2013, “a report on the state of conservation of the property for examination by the World Heritage Committee at it 37th session in 2013”. We can find no information in the public domain on the status of these Conservation Plans (due for completion December 2011), including whether they were submitted and reviewed before the work described below was carried out, nor do we have any evidence that China complied with the request to submit a report by 1 February 2013. There are legitimate questions about whether these developments meet the criteria for the inclusion of Lhasa’s old city on the List of World Heritage in Danger; namely that they may contribute to serious deterioration of urban or rural space, or the natural environment; significant loss of historical authenticity or important loss of cultural significance. (See Biv.)
Summary of developments:
• Tsering Woeser’s blog draws on information from the “Engineering Survey” for the “Barkhor
Shopping Mall”, which (she writes) describes “the goal of the renovation of the Barkhor quarter is to ‘cleanse, disperse, transform and elevate.” Her blog states: “the heart of the Old City, the circumambulation path around the Jokhang is to be thoroughly cleared..... All of the residents originally living along the street are to be moved to Tolung Dechen County in the western suburb of Lhasa.... “Not moving will be a political problem.” She further reports that “on other streets and alleys in the Old City, such as the space in front of the Ramoche temple, big public squares are to be opened up. The surrounding households will similarly be moved to the suburbs.” Urgent information is required to establish the precise location and reasons for relocating Lhasa residents. There are legitimate grounds for concern about the relocation of any residents in Tibet, since opposition to infrastructure projects is often equated with political dissent.
• The photos on her blog show the “beautification” of frontages on the Barkhor circuit. It is
unclear whether this involves demolition or serious damage to these properties within the Jokhang Temple buffer zone, but raises legitimate questions for UNESCO. Her photos also show a new shopping centre adjacent to the Jokhang Temple, of which she writes “On the left a massive government-business sector joint venture shopping center has just opened, with particularly offensive inflatable blood-red plastic columns in front of the shopping center’s doors.” Stallholders have been removed from the Barkhor area, with no information available about whether or when they may return.
• A major new shopping mall is under construction on the edge of the old city, to the north east 2
of the Barkhor, to encompass 150,000 square meters, with underground parking for 1,117 cars. This area, whilst outside the Jokhang Temple buffer zone, has seen some demolitions of
historic buildings in the last one or two years and a significant number over the last 20 years. See Google Maps Overlays in Appendix III, which appears to show that a park is considered, which – if correct – may involve significant demolition of old buildings. There are famous historic sites close to this development and UNESCO should seek urgent reassurance about the impact of this project.
• Lhasa is a river town, with the water table close to the surface, so building underground
requires much pumping to lower the water table, not only on a building site but also in the surrounds. This leads to the danger of land subsidence, a common occurrence in cities where aquifers have been intensively pumped (International Campaign for Tibet, see Appendix IV). Woeser writes of the anxieties of Lhasa residents about cracks and sinkholes, when groundwater was pumped for 2 years to build underground parking for the “Spiritual Power Plaza” (Times Square) on Beijinglu.
• Woeser evocatively writes: “The space 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. Only snipers poised on the roofs of Tibetans’ homes, and fully armed military sweeps; 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.”
• This work appears consistent with China’s elaborate and ambitious plans to expand and ‘redesign’ Lhasa by 2020, involving a ‘human culture tourism center’ as the hub.
B. Relevant background information: (Note: The information below is for reference only and will be well known to the UNESCO Secretariat) i) Description and Identification of the World Heritage Historic Ensemble: The Jokhang Temple Monastery is part of the UNESCO Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace; see http://whc. unesco.org/en/list/707. The Potala Palace, 13 Ha, was inscribed in 1994; the Jokhang Temple, 7.5 Ha with a buffer zone of 130 Ha, in 2000; and the Norbulingka, 40 Ha with a buffer zone of 69.8 Ha, in 2001. UNESCO states: “Any intervention must be approved by the responsible cultural heritage administration, with restoration strictly in accordance with the principle of retaining the historic condition.” ii) Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity of the Ensemble: http://whc. unesco.org/en/list/707. UNESCO states (our emphasis): “The Historic Ensemble… embod(ies) the administrative, religious and symbolic functions of the Tibetan theocratic government through their location, layout and architecture. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, contribute to their Outstanding Universal Value. The three-in-one historic ensemble..each with its distinctive characteristics, forms an outstanding example of traditional Tibetan architecture. The Historic Ensemble .. forms a potent and exceptional symbol of the integration of secular and religious authority.”… “The historic scale, architectural typology and the historic environment remain intact within the property area and within the buffer zone, carrying the complete historic information of the property.”
iii) Protection and Management of the Ensemble: According to the World Heritage Committee in 2011 (document WHC-SOC-394, our emphasis), “The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note the progress made by the State Party in elaborating the conservation master plans for the three areas of the property. The drafts of these plans shall be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies would additionally emphasize the necessary integration of the three
conservation master plans around the property’s Outstanding Universal Value. They would also recommend the conservation master plans take into account the foreseeable socioeconomic impacts of the conservation policies on the local communities and propose any necessary mitigation measures.” The same document contains a section about ensuring coherence and complementarity between the Conservation Master Plans of the property and the Urban Master Plan for Lhasa City, including: “Requirements for the protection and maintenance of the physical fabric of the World Heritage site to ensure its authenticity, integrity and security are established. • Requirements for the protection of the overall property are also defined and include protection of the environment [including] preservation of protected historic sites and historic buildings within the Barkhor Street zone. • Requirements for the protection of the buffer zone of the property are also established. These include ….protection of the traditional appearance of the buffer zone of the Jokhang Temple Monastery, and establishing control for the protection of the historic precinct, i. e., the Barkhor Street, with specific requirements limiting height of buildings.” The 2011 World Heritage Committee adopted decision 35COM 7B.65 3. Notes with appreciation the efforts made by the State Party to develop the conservation master plans for the three areas of the property and to harmonize these with the Lhasa Urban Development Plan; 4. Welcomes the establishment of a World Heritage Steering Committee in Lhasa to strengthen institutional co-ordination and ensure proper implementation of the conservation master plans; 5. Reiterates its request to the State Party to submit the drafts of the above-mentioned plans to the World Heritage Centre, before their finalisation and enactment by the competent authorities, for review by the Advisory Bodies; 6. Requests the State Party to submit proposals for minor boundary modifications to the buffer zone of the property to the World Heritage Centre; 7. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a report on the state of conservation of the property for examination by the World Heritage Committee at it 37th session in 2013. iv. Extracted paragraphs from the UNESCO Procedure for “World Heritage in Danger”. See http://whc.unesco.org/archive/opguide12-en.pdf (our emphasis) para 178. Criteria for the inscription of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The condition of the property must corresponds to at least one of the criteria in either of the two cases described below. 179. In the case of cultural properties: a) ASCERTAINED DANGER – The property is faced with specific and proven imminent danger, such as: i) serious deterioration of materials; ii) serious deterioration of structure and/or ornamental features; iii) serious deterioration of architectural or town planning coherence; iv) serious deterioration of urban or rural space, or the natural environment; v) significant loss of historical authenticity; vi) important loss of cultural significance. b) POTENTIAL DANGER – The property is faced with threats which could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics. Such threats are, for example: i) modification of juridical status of the property diminishing the degree of its protection; ii) lack of conservation policy; iii) threatening effects of regional planning projects; iv) threatening effects of town planning; v) outbreak or threat of armed conflict; vi) threatening impacts of climatic, geological or other environmental factors. [paras 180 – 183 n/a]
184. The Committee shall request the Secretariat to ascertain, as far as possible in cooperation with the State Party concerned, the present condition of the property, the dangers to the property and the feasibility of undertaking corrective measures. The Committee may further
decide to send a mission of qualified observers from the relevant Advisory Bodies or other organizations to visit the property, evaluate the nature and extent of the threats and propose the measures to be taken. 185. The information received, together with the comments as appropriate of the State Party and the relevant Advisory Bodies or other organizations, will be brought to the attention of the Committee by the Secretariat. 186. The Committee shall examine the information available and take a decision concerning the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Any such decision shall be taken by a majority of two-thirds of the Committee members present and voting. The Committee will then define the programme of corrective action to be taken. This programme will be proposed to the State Party concerned for immediate implementation.
C. Appendices Appendix I. English Translation of Tsering Woeser’s Blog Post; “Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/our-lhasa-is-on-the-verge-of-destruction-please-save-lhasaby-woeser/ Written: May 4, 2013, Revised: May 6, 2013 “Our Lhasa is on the verge of destruction; this is absolutely not a case of crying wolf! A tourist who’s been to Lhasa wrote on Sina Weibo: “Today I can understand clearly that the original intended objective for Lhasa has been the construction of an extravagant tourist-city monstrosity along the lines of Lijiang. All the Old City’s street stalls, guest houses, and its lowend service sector have to move out, to be replaced by high-end art and antique shops, and hotels. Moreover, all the buildings along the old streets have to have uniform facades and uniform signboards. So is it that China’s cities are to have only this one type of dumbass Korean-style beauty makeover?” Note that among the photographs that this tourist posted, the “Construction Survey” for the Barkhor Shopping Mall (originally the site of the Chengguan District Government Headquarters; located in the northeast section of the Barkhor, the circumambulation route around the Jokhang, and located very close to what is generally called Barkhor Street, also within the Old City of Lhasa) presents the scope of the project as encompassing 150,000 square meters, with an underground parking garage alone containing 1,117 parking spaces. Moreover, last year, because the colossal “Spiritual Power Plaza,” a government-business sector joint venture built at the edge of the Old City of Lhasa, which had yet to open, was constructing an underground parking garage, it was pumping out groundwater day and night for over two years, causing anxiety among Lhasa residents as well as worries about cracks ripping through the Old City of Lhasa and depressions that could reach the dangerous point of forming sinkholes. Actually, cracks have already appeared in many places, while excavated sites have no water. And now the authorities want to construct a huge shopping center with an underground parking garage in another part of the Old City. Does this mean that we’ve reached a point at which it is now nigh impossible to prevent Lhasa from falling into the destructive clutches of hungry ghosts?
Remember: in 1994, UNESCO placed the Potala Palace on the World Heritage List. But then, in 1996, the village of Shol, which had stood for 1100 years at the foot of the Potala Palace was moved and relocated. At the same time, the Potala Palace, now deprived of Shol, was fatally disfigured with a public square: a replica of all those identical squares found throughout China, that are meant to display and project supreme power and authority. In 2000 and 2001 UNESCO listed the Jokhang and the Norbulingka on the World Heritage List as extensions of the Potala, making Lhasa, already a sacred place in terms of its value for religion, history and the humanities,
a part of the world’s cultural heritage. Nominally then, it ought to receive protection simply as a matter of course. But in 2002 Tibetans received a deep wound to their hearts: an artillery shellshaped “Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” was put up to tower easily over the square, facing off against the Potala Palace in the distance. In 2007 the Potala Palace received a “Yellow Card Warning” at the World Heritage Conference, with criticism leveled for the excessive and gross pursuit of tourism profits, for unrestrained exploitation and for failing to uphold its responsibilities and commitments. The Potala Palace was put at risk of losing its “World Heritage” designation. What is regrettable is that now, not only does the Potala continue to be subjected every year to excessive exploitation for purposes of tourism, but, under the feet of several million tourists whose numbers continually increase, even Lhasa’s Old City is precariously and dangerously changing its appearance as it follows the trajectory of becoming an “International Tourist City.” Not only have its guts been opened, things have become drastic. It’s just as the Tibetan artist Kuang Laowu judged: “Faced with the lure of material goods and the seductions of power, cultural distinctiveness loses out and urban uniformity is imposed. Behind this seeming burst of prosperity the Old City of Lhasa, its substance, long since depleted, is yesterday’s faded lily; none of its ancient simplicity, with the traces of ages past, is to be found there.” Years ago, between 1996 and 2002, Andre Alexander, a German who had devoted himself to restoring the Old City of Lhasa, in concert with the Tibet Heritage Foundation which he founded, rescued 76 traditional structures in and around Lhasa and revealed the true state of affairs, stating that “starting in 1980 the construction process within the city has wrought unceasing destruction on the Old City’s ancient structures and quarters.” “From 1993 on, each year an average of 35 historic structures have been demolished. At this rate the remaining historic structures will have vanished in less than 4 years.” Because their remarkable restoration work and the witness they bore went totally against the intentions of the powers that be, in the end they were expelled from Lhasa by the authorities in Tibet—authorities who single-mindedly pursue only what is in their own interests. 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.” 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. It’s said that one old person in Lhasa who was unwilling to move has gone completely mad. As for the empty homes and courtyards, they’ll be used to draw investment bids. Stores, restaurants, bars, art galleries and the like are to be established here. And on other streets and alleys in the Old City, such as the space in front of the Ramoche temple, big public squares are to be opened up. The surrounding households will similarly be moved to the suburbs. In the northeast corner of the Old City, the site of the former Chengguan District Government Headquarters, the Barkhor Shopping Mall has already been erected. And so it goes, on and on… Of course, the Barkhor, which was originally a place of religious significance, won’t turn into a deserted street. On the contrary, it will become a bustling street, existing only for the benefit of tourists. But it will never again be the street of those Tibetans who circumambulate, come on pilgrimage, and prostrate themselves. Even if there manage to be pilgrims making prostrations there, they will simply serve to liven things up as background for the tourists, as one disaster follows another, winding down to a pathetic and miserable end for Lhasa. Historically, Lhasa has never had a mining cave-in. And now, it has had a mining cave-in. Historically, the Kyichu has never been blocked and dried up. Now it is drying up to the point that the fish are all dying. Historically, the Old City of Lhasa has never existed solely as a backdrop for tourists. And now it’s being changed into a replica of Sifang Street in Lijiang and Daka Dzong in “Shangri-La.” Might it be that one day, perhaps very soon, entry into the mountain fortress version of these tourist traps, “Old City Lhasa,” will require the purchase of tickets?
No place has disappeared so quickly; no place has been inundated so quickly. Sick at heart, Andre Alexander wrote; “Each time I go, the old houses are clearly fewer, stone by stone, brick by brick,
alley by alley, street by street; even the dogs are going missing.” And today it’s being replaced by a new Lhasa City that is being commercialized by those in power. From here on in, it’s not just me, one individual, it’s many people who are losing the few remaining bits of the Lhasa cityscape that they so deeply love; from here on in, it’s not just my life, one individual life, it’s the lives of many people, all mixed together with memories of Lhasa, that are being covered over. It’s just as one internet friend bitterly put it: “Dismantling the old structures, excavating tunnels, building crossover bridges, stopping up the Kyichu, draining the groundwater: these people are truly the incarnations of hungry ghosts! Whatever they can carry away, they carry away, and what they can’t carry away they destroy!” I should point out that over the last several years the self-immolations of 121 Tibetans have become the most conspicuous manifestation of the Tibet Issue. It matters little that the international community is only paying limited attention to it, it is still the focus of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile; everything is concentrated around it and other catastrophes and dangers faced by Tibetan society are getting scant notice. For example, right now the looming destruction of Lhasa’s Old City is staring us in the face. If this were taking place in the past, UNESCO could still issue a “Yellow Card Warning.” However, now no one is paying attention, no one is concerned. But the Chinese Government is taking the Tibetan self-immolations very seriously. On May 27 last year two Tibetans committed self-immolation in the space between the Jokhang and the Barkhor police substation. The Barkhor police substation was immediately elevated to the level of “Barkhor Ancient City Public Security Bureau.” The Mandala Hotel in which the two Tibetan self-immolators had taken lodgings was seized by the authorities and turned into the “Lhasa Barkhor Ancient City Management Committee.” The Old City of Lhasa was renamed the “Barkhor Ancient City.” But the large-scale rebuilding of the Old City by the authorities that resulted from this was actually a case of killing two birds with one stone; it was even more suited to the goals and plans for “maintaining stability.” 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. 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. Forty years ago, when UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, it recognized “the importance, for all the peoples of the world, of safeguarding this unique and irreplaceable property, to whatever people it may belong…” noting that the “deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world”… and asserting that “it is incumbent on the international community as a whole to participate in the protection of the cultural and natural heritage…” For these reasons I call on UNESCO and its affiliated organizations world-wide to stop this sort of frightful “modernization,” which constitutes an unpardonable and incalculable crime against the ancient city of Lhasa’s landscape, human culture, and environment. I call on the many Tibetologists all around the world, the people and organizations studying and researching the Tibet Issue: please pay close attention to the unredeemable misfortune that is befalling the Old City of Lhasa right at this very moment. I hope people from all walks of life will launch actions to save the Old City of Lhasa! Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!”
Appendix II – Photos with captions taken from Tsering Woeser’s Blog Post Woeser writes: “The photographs below, showing the state of affairs in the Old City of Lhasa have been taken by tourists travelling to Lhasa as well as Tibetans in Lhasa:”
“The space 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. Only snipers poised on the roofs of Tibetans’ homes, and fully armed military sweeps; 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.” “A Chinese resident of Lhasa wrote on the internet: “… Waking up one morning I took a look at this odd street. I had no idea that this was a major change. Previously, when I would relax I’d often sit atop Buchung’s stall, talking and laughing. This was my habit for over ten years. This sort of change meant for us a change in vision, or aesthetics, or lifestyle. But for Buchung it meant a change in the environment and conditions of his very subsistence. The matter truly touched those who livelihoods are in Tibet.”
“On the left a massive government-business sector joint venture shopping center has just opened, with particularly offensive inflatable blood-red plastic columns in front of the shopping center’s doors. One internet friend wrote ‘Taking a good look, it really lacks the least sense of beauty… simply nauseating… It’s as fucked-up as opening day at some county seat restaurant; nothing to say.’”
“What was originally a pavilion of a thousand lamps in front of the Jokhang has been demolished for reconstruction, but it isn’t known what the further plan is.”
“The Barkhor: the circumambulation road around the Jokhang.”
“Tibetans going around the Barkhor.”
“The Barkhor: the circumambulation road around the Jokhang.”
“Buildings along Barkhor Street.”
“An internet friend says: ‘In front of the Dungtsho hostel, a big gash has been cut open to construct the Barkhor Shopping Mall. It’s said that the stalls on Barkhor Street that formerly sold Tibetan jewelry are subsequently to be collected together and moved here. Capitalist politics homogenizes everything.’”
“A display image of the Barkhor Shopping Mall, currently under construction. It is situated on what was originally the site of the Chengguan District government, located to the northeast of the Barkhor, the circumambulation route around the Jokhang, very close to what is commonly called Barkhor Street” SEE APPENDIX III for GOOGLE MAP OVERLAYS TO SHOW LOCATION OF THIS DEVELOPMENT.
“The ‘Construction Survey’ for the soon-to-be-built Barkhor Shopping Mall presents the scope of the project as encompassing 150,000 square meters, with an underground parking garage alone containing 1,117 parking spaces.”
Mentsikhang Road in the Old City of Lhasa is also being dug up. During the time of the “Destroy the Four Olds” campaign of the Cultural Revolution, innumerable Buddhist images looted from temples and monasteries were buried on this street to make a show of trampling on the “Four Olds.” I don’t know whether or not any of these Buddhist images have been unearthed at present, while the city’s guts are being cut open.
A Lhasa street.
Demolition work just outside the Old City of Lhasa
A street in Lhasa.
The Old City district of Lhasa.
Appendix III. Google Map overlays to show location of planned Shopping Centre and Jokhang Buffer Zone (courtesy of Robert Barnett)
Appendix IV. International Campaign for Tibet Report in Full: http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/destruction-lhasa-revealed-new-images “Destruction of Lhasa revealed in new images”
• New images detail construction of a large shopping mall with underground parking located
in the northeast section of the Barkhor, next to the holy Jokhang Temple within the old city of Lhasa, and destruction of buildings.
• The demolition and construction depicted in the new images appears to be consistent with the Chinese authorities’ elaborate and ambitious plans to expand and ‘redesign’’ Lhasa by 2020, involving a ‘human culture tourism center’ as the hub.
• International scholars on Tibetan studies have issued a petition to China and UNESCO
expressing “grave concern over the rapidly-progressing destruction of much of the traditional architectural heritage of the Old City of Lhasa and its environs.”
• The images were posted by Beijing-based blogger and writer Woeser, and the post received thousands of comments and shares on the social network Weibo until it was removed by Chinese censors. Information about the exact extent of the demolition and construction is difficult to obtain due to the crackdown in Lhasa and restrictions on information imposed by the Chinese authorities.
• Woeser writes: “The space 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. Only snipers poised on the roofs of Tibetans’ homes, and fully armed military sweeps; 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.”
Chinese authorities and developers appear to have commenced a massive new infrastructure project in the historic section of Lhasa – a large shopping mall with underground parking located in the northeast section of the Barkhor, the circumambulation route around the Jokhang Temple within the old city of Lhasa, the cultural and historic heart of Tibet, and destruction of buildings. Beijing-based Tibetan writer and blogger Woeser writes on her blog that the new shopping mall now being built in the Barkhor, the pilgrimage route that encircles the Jokhang Temple, encompasses 150,000 square meters, with an underground parking garage containing 1,117 parking spaces. As Lhasa is a river town, with the water table close to the surface, going underground requires much pumping to lower the water table, not only on a building site built in the surrounds. This leads to the danger of land subsidence, a common occurrence in cities where aquifers have been intensively pumped. The original ‘Old City’ area of Lhasa, which is at least 1,300 years old, today represents less than two per cent of the total area of Lhasa, with the rest of the city constructed mainly out of modern concrete buildings. Hundreds of historic Tibetan buildings have been razed to the ground over the past 20 years, including the village of Shol, once at the foot of the Potala Palace. The dramatic increase in tourism in Lhasa since the opening of the new railway from Qinghai in 2006 has been especially acute at Lhasa’s historic cultural sites, such as the Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace – the only structures in Lhasa accorded national-level protection. These sites have a particular significance to the Tibetan people because of their connection to the Dalai Lama and Tibet before the Chinese invasion. In their petition, the Tibet Studies scholars say that given Lhasa’s cultural and historic significance, the “dire” and dramatic new developments in Lhasa are not only of Tibetan and Chinese concern, but are an “international problem”. (http://www.petitions24.com/tibetan_scholars_appeal_to_halt_ the_destruction_of_old_lhasa).
In her blog, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, Woeser wrote: “[When] the colossal ‘Spiritual Power Plaza’, a government-business sector joint venture built at the edge of the Old City of Lhasa, which had yet to open, was constructing an underground parking garage, it was pumping out groundwater day and night for over two years, causing anxiety among Lhasa residents as well as worries about cracks ripping through the Old City of Lhasa and depressions that could reach the dangerous point of forming sinkholes. Actually, cracks have already appeared in many places, while excavated sites have no water. And now the authorities want to construct a huge shopping center with an underground parking garage in another part of the Old City. Does this mean that we’ve reached a point at which it is now nigh impossible to prevent Lhasa from falling into the destructive clutches of hungry ghosts?” (Translation into English of Woeser’s blog by High Peaks Pure Earth). The petition by scholars urges Chinese President Xi Jinping and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukovato send “independent investigative teams” to Lhasa and to see “whether local officials and business interests have violated the responsibilities incumbent upon China through its participation in UNESCO.” UNESCO has warned Beijing before about the consequences of demolition and lack of preservation, to no effect; in 2004, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee warned Beijing that it needed to take better care of the Potala or risk having the site placed on UNESCO’s ‘Danger List’. (UNESCO warns China to look after Forbidden City and Potala Palace’, Agence France-Presse, July 6, 2007). In a specific request to UNESCO, the petition says, “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 21stcentury tourist town, shorn of its uniqueness and its innate traditional culture.” In the 1930s, according to a demographic survey by Prof Zhang Tianlu, Lhasa’s population was only 20,000, yet by 1964 reached 154,000, a year in which destruction of the Tibetan built environment was escalating (‘Population Development in Tibet and Related Issues’, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1997). The population of Lhasa Municipality was officially 324,000 in 1985 and 477,000 in 2008; these statistics do not include military personnel garrisoned in Lhasa, or the substantial floating population of workers from inland Chinese provinces (Tibet Autonomous Region Statistical Yearbook 2009, table 3–5). The urban population of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was officially 680,000 in 2009, almost one quarter of the population total. This includes not only Lhasa but a few substantial towns as well, according to the TAR Statistical Yearbook, 2011. By 2010, 357,000 square metres of floor space were under construction by state owned construction companies alone (TAR Statistical Yearbook 2011, table 10–7, 10–8) in a building boom that had lasted a decade, financed by central subsidies from Beijing. A further 105,000 sq m were under construction by local government (Investment Guide of TAR, Department of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, TAR, 105 pages, no date, probably 2002, listing 150 projects awaiting investment). Australia-based analyst Gabriel Lafitte, who has studied China’s plans for the development of Lhasa and their implementation, said: “What makes Lhasa distinctive is the way the interests of the property speculators and the security state neatly coincide; and secondly, the role of the state in financing the entire building boom. The end result is that Lhasa has not only income levels similar to Beijing or Shanghai but also the consumption levels and social stratification of acute inequality, plus the exclusion and expulsion from the inner city of the working poor. As property prices rise, and Lhasa becomes an enclave of wealth accumulation with few linkages to the rural economy surrounding it, the range of businesses capable of paying the rent to the rent-seeking landowners shrinks. Only businesses with high profit margins can afford to operate in the city centre, which over many centuries became the centre of Lhasa because of its sacredness.” Lhasa’s population boom began in the 1980s and underwent a further expansion with the coming of the world’s highest railroad across the Tibetan plateau to Lhasa in July 2006 – the most highprofile symbol of Beijing’s ambitious plans to develop the western regions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
News of a further expansion of Lhasa in the area where the station was built, known as Liuwu New District (Tibetan: Ne’u), was reported in the official press in November 2007. The reports
announced that the Lhasa City area would be expanded by more than 60% through the establishment of this urban district, which will accommodate 110,000 residents. (‘Lhasa city area grows by 60%’, Xinhua, November 19, 2007, http://news.xinhuanet.com). Xinhua stated: “In recent years in the wake of the state’s western development strategy, Lhasa has been on a ‘fast track’ of economic and social development, in particular since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railroad. As a terminal city for the Qinghai-Tibet railroad, a new golden period of development is being welcomed.” (‘Liuwu New District established, great changes to Lhasa’s urban map’, Xinhua, November 19, 2007, available at: www.xz.xinhuanet.com). This new development was in line with — and may even be more ambitious than — proposals outlined in the Party’s Tenth Five Year Plan (2001–2005) to more than quadruple the area of urban Lhasa from its current 53 square km to 272 square km by 2015. In June 2001, an official report stated that the Liuwu New Area, in Toelung Dechen County (Chinese: Duilong Deqing), on the bank of the Kyichu (Lhasa) River, and “a 12.5 square km development zone” will “become the pioneers of economic development of Lhasa and even the whole autonomous region.” (‘Future Urban Development in Lhasa’, Xinhua, June 4, 2001, available at: www.china.org.cn. Also see ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’). In December last year, images emerged of the removal of some market trading stalls from Barkhor street area at the heart of Lhasa, Tibet’s cultural and historical capital (ICT report, New images emerge of removal of stalls in Barkhor in Lhasa as authorities announce ‘face-lift’). According to a posting on Chinese social media, authorities in Lhasa ordered the removal of some small stalls from outside the Jokhang Temple to Yuthok Lam (Chinese: Yutuo Lu, which runs from the Jokhang to the Potala Square). While stall-holders had been told the removal is temporary, the posting expressed concern at this move in an area of such symbolic importance for Tibetans. No outside heritage or conservation groups are allowed to operate in Lhasa as the Chinese authorities have sought to seal off the Tibetan plateau from the outside world, and so details of new developments are often slow to emerge or incomplete.
Concerns and Questions about Developments in Lhasa