The an­cient city takes a new route along the Silk Road

Kash­gar, an old trad­ing post inChina and a ma­jor set­tle­ment in the days of the camel trains, is un­der­go­ing a ren­o­va­tion pro­gramthat aims to pre­serve history while reach­ing out to the present, as Liu Jing re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

The old city of Kash­gar is a liv­ing tes­ta­ment to the an­cient Silk Road — Uygur crafts­men and ar­ti­sans ham­mer and file away at cop­per ves­sels of dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes, traders hag­gle over deals in the world’s biggestSun­day­bazaar, and­don­keys and camels with tin­kling bells tied around their necks thread their way through the nar­row lanes that wind be­tween­the­cramped­build­ings.

Kash­gar’s 2,000-year-old spirit is still in ev­i­dence as the city un­der­goes a mas­sive ren­o­va­tion pro­ject. It was launched in 2009 to strengthen the old houses and make them more re­sis­tant to earth­quakes while pre­serv­ing the city’s orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance as much as pos­si­ble.

Hav­ing lived in the city for five gen­er­a­tions, ArepAji’sfam­ily has seen it all, from the splen­dor of the old days to the new city grow­ing up around them.

“My fam­ily has been here since the gen­er­a­tion of my grand­fa­ther’s grand­fa­ther, but they never lived in a house as good as mine,” the 31-year-old shop­keeper said.

The an­cient city, in theXin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, is lo­cated in the west­ern­most cor­ner of China and con­nects the coun­try with Cen­tral Asia and Europe. Known as a “pearl on the Silk Road”, it has been the cen­ter of re­gional trade­and­cul­tural ex­change­for more than two mil­len­nia.

ZhangQian, an en­voy sent by theWestern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 24) to ex­plore China’s western ex­panses, ar­rived in the city in­about 128BCand­was amazed by its stores and well­main­tained roads, as well as the var­i­ous com­modi­ties im­ported fromRome­and Cen­tralAsia.

Kash­gar still dis­plays many traces of its old splen­dor, and about 220,000 peo­ple from 13 eth­nic groups still live in the old city, which cov­ers about 8 square kilo­me­ters. More than 100 lanes of var­i­ous widths form a labyrinth that leads visi­tors straight into the lives of the lo­cals.

Like Arep’s pot­tery shop, many of the stores in the city have been in op­er­a­tion for gen­er­a­tions. The Sun­day mar­ket, the world’s largest out­door bazaar, sees the city teem­ing with ven­dors hawk­ing spices, hand­made blan­kets, head­scarves and spices, while cus­tomers bar­gain for sheep­skin hats, replica dag­gers and cop­per ket­tles.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials of­ten re­fer to the ren­o­va­tion pro­ject as a “marathon”. Lo­cated in an area fre­quently hit by earth tremors, the old houses were di­lap­i­dated and ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to earth­quakes and fires. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment has in­vested about 7 bil­lion yuan ($1.1 bil­lion) to fund the pro­ject, which is sched­uled to be com­pleted in 2017 and will cover 65,000 house­holds and all 220,000 res­i­dents.

Arep used to live in a low, shabby house with no gas or in­door plumb­ing. “We had to build the toi­let on the roof and empty it late at nightwhenour neigh­bors were asleep to avoid em­bar­rass­ment,” he said.

He now lives in a new home that has more than 10 rooms an­d­is­fit­ted­with­mod­er­na­meni­ties. “It’s much bet­ter than my old house, and I can use the open space in front of the house to dis­playmy prod­ucts,” he said.

The ren­o­va­tion work is un­der­taken by both the gov­ern­ment and the in­di­vid­ual house­holder. The author­i­ties help the res­i­dents to build the main struc­ture of the house, while the res­i­dents dec­o­rate them — in­clud­ing the roof, doors, win­dows and handrails — in ac­cor­dance with the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics and the tra­di­tional way of life.

Abibula Yasen, the of­fi­cial in charge of the pro­ject, said the work is ex­tremely time-con­sum­ing be­cause the de­sign process is con­ducted on a

The re­con­struc­tion of Kash­gar is not only de­signed to im­prove lo­cal liv­ing con­di­tions, but also to at­tract a greater num­ber of visi­tors. The city of­fi­cially opened as a “scenic spot” in July, and now re­ceives about 1,000 visi­tors ev­ery day. “It’s a good start,” said Adila Alet, an of­fi­cial at the Kash­gar Tourism Bureau.

The grow­ing num­ber of tourists is also bring­ing more busi­ness to Arep’s shop, which be­gan to lose trade af­ter mod­ern su­per­mar­kets be­gan of­fer­ing cheaper al­ter­na­tives to his hand­made goods.

“Now my works are wel­comed by tourists, es­pe­cially those from over­seas,” he said. The shop’s monthly rev­enue is now­be­tween 3,000 and 10,000 yuan, a vast im­prove­ment from the av­er­age 1,000 yuan Arep made in the old days.

Arep said that when he walks in the city, he al­ways feels as though he’s trav­el­ing through time. “Moder­nity won’t change Kash­gar. As long as we are here, the old city will re­main,” he said.

Con­tact the writer at li­u­jing-4@chi­nadaily.com.cn

YAO TONG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Uygur chil­dren play dur­ing Ramadan on the streets of the old city of Kash­gar in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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