One of the world’s oldest cities, Kashgar serves as both the spiritual and political capital of traditional Uighur culture. Since 1949, the modern People’s Republic of China has exerted strong control over the region, and Kashgar has been particularly hard hit. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a province covering 1/6th of China’s territory holds a majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Long at odds with the Uighurs’ sometimes bloody quest for independence, the Chinese government has insituted a program of subsidized migration and settlement in the area by Han majority Chinese. In so doing, the government hopes to develop a stable and robust economy whose purpose is the exploitation of the region’s natural resources and to overwhelm the local ethnicities. Whereas the Uighur population of Kashgar was previously as high as 90%, as a result of government resettlement, the Uighur population is plummeting.
At the heart of Kashgar is the so-called Old City. A candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status, the twisting alleyways and haphazardly built houses clump together and spring out of the city’s terrain in an organic and natural way. After sporadic uprisings and fighting between Uighurs and Hans, the Beijing-controlled municipal government has unveiled plans to completely renovate the Old City. Uighur families who’ve lived in the same location for, in some cases, hundreds of years will be uprooted and resettled in cookie cutter apartment blocks built according to contemporary Chinese building standards. Notwithstanding the individual upheaval of this process, the redevelopment of central Kashgar will radically transform the nature of daily life in the Uighur community. The alleyways of the Old City create a naturally closed and safe neighborhood structure in which children can play and neighbors interact without fear of outsiders or traffic. These alleyways also lead to central streets, arteries for the community on which Uighur-owned businesses thrive.