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ACTION: Traditional areas of Lhasa under threat of destruction PDF Print E-mail
[28 May 2013] The Chinese government is implementing plans to 'modernise' large parts of the ancient Tibetan quarter of Lhasa. Construction work has already begun in the Barkhor area next to the Jokhang temple, with plans for a massive shopping mall and underground parking. UNESCO is being called upon to investigate the matter and the Chinese government urged to halt the destruction of one of few remaining traditional areas of Lhasa.

Save Lhasa logo 1[UPDATE 1: 15 June] On 14 June, the petition, calling on the World Heritage Committee to 'Save Lhasa' from destruction by China's rapid urban development, was delivered to UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. The petition has been signed by over 80,000 people. The report
Concerns and Questions about Developments in Lhasa, compiled by International Tibet Network (a global coalition of Tibet groups, including Tibet Society), was also delivered to UNESCO. The World Heritage Committee's annual meeting to examine the status of heritage sites begins on 16 June.

[UPDATE 2: 24 June] UNESCO's World Heritage Committee meeting is due to end on Thursday 27 June. Please take action now, urging that the issue of China's re-development of Lhasa, which is destroying traditional Tibetan areas, is raised before the end of the meeting.

Take Action  I  Background  I  Press Release

1. Send twitter messages highlighting the issue, using #UNESCO and #SaveLhasa. Here are some examples: (Note: the link redirects to this webpage.)

Save Lhasa logo 2Want to help #SaveLhasa, #Tibet? RT #UNESCO #SaveLhasa NOW - Before it is too late!

#UNESCO: help #SaveLhasa. Stop China's rapid urban development of Lhasa which is destroying traditional Tibetan areas

#UNESCO: Lhasa's Outstanding Universal Value needs saving. #SaveLhasa NOW!

2. Sign the online petition to Kishore Rao, Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, calling on UNESCO to urge China to cease the destruction of ancient areas of Lhasa and to send a mission to investigate further.
Click here to sign's petition

3. Write to Mr Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Mr Matthew Sudders, the UK's Ambassador to UNESCO, with the following recommendations:

a. To call on the Chinese authorities to immediately halt any construction work in the Barkhor area of Lhasa in order to allow independent investigative teams to examine the area and proposed redevelopment.

To recommend that the Barkhor area and other remaining traditional Tibetan areas of Lhasa be incorporated into UNESCO's World Heritage listing and afforded the same protection as currently given to the Potala Palace, Jokhang temple and Norbulingka.

To call on the Chinese government to respect and uphold the cultural, civil and human rights of the Tibetan people, and to include Tibetans in consultations on development strategies for Lhasa.

Mr Ed Vaizey

Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Salutation: Dear Mr Vaizey

H. E. Mr Matthew Sudders
Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the UK to UNESCO
Maison de l'UNESCO, Bureau M3.06
1, rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Salutation: Your Excellency

(For those living outside the UK, please write to your appropriate minister who deals with cultural affairs and your country's UNESCO delegate - click here to view list of delegates.)

Construction in BarkhorIn early May, Beijing-based Tibetan Woeser highlighted on her blog the Chinese government's plans to redevelop the Barkhor area of Lhasa. Woeser referred to the plans as "frightful modernisation, adding that it "constitutes an unpardonable and incalculable crime against the ancient city of Lhasas landscape, human culture, and environment".

In December, South China Morning Post reported that the Lhasa authorities had begun a seven-month, 1.2 billion yuan (130 million) project to revamp the Barkhor area. The project was reported to upgrade the water, sewage and electrical infrastructure and "dismantle illegally built structures". However, Woeser has brought to light plans which threaten the Old City of Lhasa.

Sign in LhasaAccording to a sign erected in the Barkhor (pictured left), the authorities are building the "Barkhor Shopping Mall" (concept art pictured below) in the northeast section of the Barkhor, part of the circumambulation route around the Jokhang temple. The shopping mall will be 150,000 square meters in size with an underground parking garage with 1,117 parking spaces. The sign also states that the area will become international tourist attraction.

Construction work around the Barkhor can be seen in the underground footage from France 24, in their recent news report on the oppression faced by Tibetans living in Lhasa.

Concept of Barkhor Shopping MallWoeser reports that the street traders, traditionally located on the circumambulation route around the Jokhang temple, will be relocated inside the shopping mall. Local residents are to be moved to Tolung Dechen County, a suburb west of the city. Residents who move promptly are to be given a subsidy, but those who refuse to move will become "a political problem".

These development plans are in line with China's economic development strategy for Tibet. In 2001, the Chinese government announced plans to more than quadruple the size of Lhasa by 2015 (from 53 square km to 272 square km). In 2006, the Qinghai-Tibet railway was opened, bringing a large influx of tourists and Han Chinese migrant workers to Lhasa. An extension to the railway linking Lhasa to Shigatse is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Destruction in LhasaInformation on the destruction of the Old City of Lhasa has been slow to emerge, as foreign heritage or conservation groups are not allowed to work in Lhasa, and China has sealed off much of Tibet, with bans on foreign journalists and non-Chinese tourists.

International scholars on Tibetan studies have launched a petition directed to Chinese President Xi Jinping and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bukova expressing "grave concern" over the destruction of the Old City of Lhasa. The petition urges independent investigative teams be sent to Lhasa to determine if there have been any violations of UNESCO's regulations.

The petition also 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 21st-century tourist town, shorn of its uniqueness and its innate traditional culture.

UNESCO maintains the World Heritage List, which recognises and protects sites that are deemed to be "outstanding demonstrations of human coexistence with the land as well as human interactions, cultural coexistence, spirituality and creative expression". The Potala Palace was included in the original World Heritage List produced in 1994. In 2000 and 2001, the Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka were added to the list as extensions to the Potala Palace site.

Further reading: ICT I Phayul
Translation of Woeser's original blogpost (on High Peaks Pure Earth)
UNESCO World Heritage Listing for Lhasa
France24's underground report from Lhasa
Report: Concerns and questions about developments in Lhasa (by International Tibet Network)

Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. (Annual membership 24; Overseas 36; Life 500).
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