New Phase of Demolition adjoining Lhasa

The People’s Republic of China has on several occasions declared to the international community its commitment to respect the culture of all nationalities living under Chinese jurisdiction, including their physical heritage.However, it has come to our attention that a new phase of demolition has begun in an area adjoining the historic centre of Lhasa, Tibet. The area in question contains several historic Tibetan buildings, and their destruction is a matter of grave concern. There are no signs of any sufficient consultation process with local people or with relevant international bodies such as ICOMOS, which have long shown interest in the preservation of the physical and cultural heritage of Tibet. It seems as if this demolition is being rushed through. I hope you will share our view that these buildings must be conserved with a view to renovation, and take steps to stop the demolition before it is too late.

Demolition appears to have begun last Thursday on the building on the southeast corner where Dekyi Shar Lam (also known as Beijing Dong Lu) and “Snowland Street” meet. Tenants of this building are reported to have been evicted. The city is planning to demolish the whole building complex, which apparently includes an old residence called Samding.

Reports indicate that the city also plans to demolish the entire block to the south and east of this building complex. The area concerned is the block beside (immediately north of) the well known tourist hotel “Snowlands,” including the French restaurant, opposite (east of) the Pentoc Hotel and the Xiangbala Hotel. This block contains some important old aristocrat buildings, such as Phunkhang (a,k.a. Ganglha Metok) and is one of the few remaining centres of traditional Tibetan buildings.

These areas of traditional Tibetan architecture now constitute less than one square kilometre of Lhasa. The surrounding city has expanded to 53 square kilometres (more than double what it was in 1980.) Many buildings in this area are quite old; in most cases they can be safely renovated. While this demolition does not include monasteries or temples, it does include physical symbols of the remaining Tibetan cultural heritage.

Demolition of Tibetan landmarks and destruction of important symbols of Tibetan culture contradicts China’s stated intentions in Tibet. Help us preserve these significant archaeological sites. We note that China has ratified and is obligated to accept the terms of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states in Article 15 that “The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the realization of this right [to take part in cultural life] shall include those necessary for the conservation [of] culture”. China has also ratified the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which binds states to “the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 and situated on its territory.”

The traditional areas of historic Lhasa apparently targeted for demolition are clearly part of the Tibetan cultural heritage, and of universal value. To destroy them without community consultation would be a serious violation of China’s duty to protect cultural heritage. As a distinguished member of China’s State Bureau of Cultural Relics, we request you to ensure that all demolition be halted pending full consultation with international bodies, and that all remaining buildings of Tibetan cultural significance be renovated and not demolished.

For more information contact Frank Bonner:

Zdroj: ICOMOS Slovakia

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