Old Lhasa Being Demolished!


29 April 2002

Students for a Free Tibet

Demolition appears to have begun last Thursday on the building on the southeast corner where Dekyi Shar Lam (aka 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 the city plans to demolish the entire block around 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 and Ganglha Metok and is one of the few remaining centers of traditional Tibetan buildings.

This area is approximately 3 mins walk from Jokhang square, which is the historic center of Lhasa. These traditional areas now constitute less than 1 square kilometer of Lhasa which has expanded to 53 square kilometers (more than double what it was in 1980.)

Many buildings in this area are old and in disrepair, but in most cases they are perfectly capable of renovation. While this demolition does not include monasteries or temples, it does include physical symbols of the remaining Tibetan cultural heritage. There are no signs of any consultation with local people.

It seems as if this demolition is being rushed through; one major political issue is that there is no longer any group to monitor and protect Tibetans from this kind of activity. A major architectural monitoring and restoration group was expelled in 2000.


Chinese Authorities Demolish Traditional Tibetan Houses in Lhasa


April 29, 2002


Note: for images of the buildings Chinese authorities are demolishing please go to:

http://www.savetibet.org/News/News.cfm?ID=1000&c=6 (ICT)

Demolition of a large traditionally-built housing and business complex began in the historic Barkhor area Lhasa on Friday, April 26th. The building on Mentsikhang Lam forms the border of what some call the old city. According to Lhasa residents, the traditional building is reportedly one of dozens planned for demolition by Lhasa authorities.

Residents of a smaller traditional building across the main street of Beijing Lam were also given notice to move out as demolition is scheduled to begin this week.

The residential part of the buildings are planned to be rebuilt as concrete living blocks and residents will be given priority to move back in at an increased rental price in smaller rooms. "We were given five days notice. I have to move my entire family out," said an evicted resident contacted by ICT. "I had two large rooms for my family, but I will likely not be able to afford even paying for one room after the rebuild."

Representatives of the evicted residents made an unsuccessful plea not to demolish the building on Thursday morning to the local residential management committee. Demolition began the day afterwards. Many residents have lived in the traditional building since it was built after the cultural revolution.

Lhasa residents report that traditional buildings that are not officially protected as historically significant will likely be destroyed in the coming year. "If the houses have the traditional pillars, authorities have said they must go," said a shop owner on nearby Beijing Lam. Tibetans often describe the size of their house by the number of pillars.

The demolition and construction is part of Beijing's ongoing effort to promote their version of development in Tibet. A massive, state-bank-funded construction boom is in full swing in Lhasa, with large scale, concrete residential and business complexes being built throughout the city. ICT estimates that there are approximately 40,000 Chinese migrant construction workers in the Lhasa area, and two times that number of associated migrants provided services. Many new buildings in Lhasa and the surrounding valley stand empty. It is believed that the state banks will wait for the expected population influx with the Golmud-Lhasa railroad before calling in on their loans.


Further demolitions of historic buildings in Lhasa


TIN News Update

29 April 2002

The authorities in Lhasa have begun to demolish a building complex under UNESCO protection in the traditional Tibetan area close to the Jokhang Temple, the historic centre of the city. A three-storey century-old townhouse within the complex that is also under the protection of the municipal authorities in Lhasa may also be demolished, according to a reliable report from Lhasa. The traditionally-built building complex is on the corner of Dekyi Shar Lam (Chinese:

Beijing Dong Lu) and Mentsikhang Lam, an area that falls within the Lingkor, the traditional pilgrimage circuit around the Tibetan capital. The impending demolition of the buildings marks a further erosion of the urban fabric and traditional character of the area. Several representatives made an unsuccessful appeal to local officials to request that the demolition should not take place, but tenants of the building complex were given five days notice to move out on 24 April.

A Western tourist who was in Lhasa a few days ago said that preparation for demolition of the housing, which is almost opposite the Pentoc hotel, was already in progress: "We saw all kinds of gutting work on the structure going on - I'm sure it will be a pile of rubble in 10 days. The demolitions seem to be happening so fast, all over the city." According to a reliable report from Lhasa, the historic stone and mud brick townhouse known as the Samding Khangsar now slated for demolition will be replaced with a standard courtyard development, fronted by a four-storey building in contemporary stonework. The entrance of the Samding Khangsar house is near to the Yabshi Phunkhang, now run as a restaurant, built as a residence for the family of the 11th Dalai Lama, and known as one of the finest secular structures in Lhasa.

The townhouse threatened with demolition has been declared a protected building at the municipal level in Lhasa, and it falls within the protected zone of the Barkor under the UNESCO World Heritage List. A spokesperson for UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in Paris said that they were "very concerned about the situation" and "would try to halt this demolition before it happens". UNESCO has already expressed concern about two recent architectural developments in Lhasa - the construction of a 37-metre high monument to commemorate the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet in the Potala Square (see:


and a 13-storey Public Security Bureau building north of the Barkor pilgrimage area (see:

http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2002/2602.htm ).

Both these developments are outside the protection zone of the World Heritage List, but UNESCO has expressed concern on the grounds that they are "intrusive" within the context of "the urban fabric of the city".

Scandinavian architects Knud Larssen and Amund Sinding Larssen have documented the extent of the destruction of the old buildings in Lhasa in The Lhasa Atlas:

Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Townscape (Serindia Publications 2001). The architects report that nearly two out of three of the old buildings of Lhasa inside the pilgrimage circuit of the Lingkor (there once numbered more than a thousand) have now gone, with demolition reaching a peak in the mid-1990s. The authors state: "Modern buildings go up in Lhasa with a speed and efficiency rarely seen in other towns [in China]. Such speed, economy and simple construction can make new housing appear dilapidated even before completion, and thus many buildings put up in the 1990s may be short-lived and expensive short-term investments for Lhasa. There are signs, however, that people want improved craftsmanship in parts of the old town."

The expulsion of a European non-governmental organisation, the Tibet Heritage Fund, from Lhasa in 2000 indicated the particular difficulties faced by those involved in cultural heritage work in the current economic and political climate. The Tibet Heritage Fund, which employed more than 200 local workers in Lhasa, had been involved in restoring more than 70 historic buildings in Lhasa, including houses and temples more than 1,200 years old. There were reports that officials had accused the Tibet Heritage Fund of a series of violations, including using unauthorised construction firms, restoring unapproved sites and damaging social order, which were disputed by the group.

The authorities aim to more than quadruple the area of urban Lhasa from its current 53 square kilometres to 272 square km by 2015 and increase the urban population by 30 per cent over the next four years.

The emphasis on economic development in Lhasa has allowed the construction industry to become increasingly influential, as seen in the transformation of the urban landscape, with cultural heritage being assigned a lower priority by the authorities. Knud Larssen and Amund Sinding Larssen write in the Lhasa Atlas: "In 1983, the State Council in Beijing approved the Lhasa Development Plan 1980 -

2000, which has proved decisive for the city's urban development. The plan defines protection of cultural heritage as a priority concern, but today, after almost 20 years, it is fair to say that new construction has won over the traditional townscape in a major way".

Note: A map and images of the area can be viewed at TIN's website from tomorrow (30 April) at:

http://www.tibetinfo.net/reports/culture/lhasamap.htm and in the section Images: Culture