UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Date: June 15, 2013
Subject: Appealing to take immediate action to stop the destruction and frightening modernization of Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.
We the Tibetan Women’s Association, an organization that encompasses 16,000 members in 56 regional chapters across four continents (Asia, America, Europe, and Australia) urge the United Nations World Heritage Centre to take immediate action to stop the Chinese government’s destruction and frightening modernization of Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.
China’s ongoing project of constructing Bakhor Shopping Mall is destroying Lhasa. The project covers 150,000 square meters and includes an underground parking space for 1,117 garages. This project also has environmental ramifications since it is destroying the root of the city as it pumps out groundwater throughout the day and night.
In 2000 and 2001, UNESCO, in recognition of Lhasa’s value for its religion, history and the humanities, listed the Jokhang and the Norbulingka as extensions of the Potala on its World Heritage list. However, by continuing its modernization projects in Lhasa, the Chinese government is not only destroying Tibet, but also threatening World Heritage.
In Woeser’s letter, “Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa,” she describes the Chinese government’s plans to divide Lhasa into several parts: the historic circumambulation path around the Jokhang is to be thoroughly cleared, all the street peddlers are to be moved inside what will be the Barkhor Shopping Mall, and all the residents originally living along the streets are to be moved to Tolung Dechen County in the western suburb of Lhasa. Chinese authorities announced that it would grant subsidy of between 20,000 to 30,000 RMB for households that quickly move into the Tolung Dechen County, and reprimand those who refuse to comply.
Lhasa is not merely a capital city; it is the spiritual, cultural, and political center of Tibet. Like Mecca is holy for Islams, so is Lhasa for Tibetans. Throughout the year, countless Tibetans make pilgrimage to the holy city of Lhasa. The city’s unique beauty is reflected in the images of pilgrims circumambulating the Jokhang Temple and prostrating in front of it. However, the frightening and rapid pace of modernization of this ancient city is directly endangering Tibetan religion, culture and identity.
In 1994, UNESCO honored the Potala Palace by including this landmark structure on its World Heritage List. However, since then, there have been questionable developments in Lhasa that threatened the preservation of this capital city. One incident was in 1996, when the Chinese authorities destroyed the village of Shol, an area that had previously stood at the foot of the Potala Palace for 1100 years. Then in 2007, UNESCO itself pointed out the overtourism at the Potala Palace by giving a “Yellow Card Warning” to the Chinese government and threatening the removal of the Potala Palace from the World Heritage List. Now we urge you to take action to prevent another mishap like that which took place in Shol. As we currently witness the destruction of area around Jokhang, we now need your help more than ever.
The ancient city Lhasa, especially surrounding Jokhang Temple is a unique and irreplaceable property of Tibetan people and the construction of 150,000 square meters shopping mall around Jokhang temple will lead to the deterioration or disappearance of the unique heritage of Tibet.
Therefore, on behalf of all the Tibetans, we the Tibetan Women’s Association appeal your excellence Mr Kishore Rao, to intervene in the construction of Bakhor Shopping Mall to save Lhasa from the Chinese government’s destructive and frightening modernization plans. We urge the World Heritage Center to remain committed in its mission of preserving and safeguarding the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Central Tibetan Women’s Association, Dharamsala.