China is transforming the ancient part of Tibet’s capital into a tourist district according to a visiting native of the area, Amy Li of the South China Morning Post reports.
The construction project near the Jokhang temple — the most sacred and important temple in Tibet — reportedly involves building a 150,000 square meter shopping center and an underground parking lot in the heart of the ancient city.
Li reports that the government plans to evict vendors and residents in the area so that their houses and shops could be used to attract new businesses including restaurants, bars, and art galleries.
“Lhasa is being destroyed by excessive commercial development,” Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, who lives in Beijing but grew up in the capital, wrote in a letter after visiting the area. “Please save Lhasa.”
Li notes that the post received thousands of comments and shares on the social network Weibo before Chinese censors took it down.
“Lhasa doesn’t exist for only tourists,” Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, who lives in Beijing but grew up in the capital, told SCMP. “There are real people who live here and it’s also a religious place.”
Jokhang, built around 642 AD, is Tibet’s first Buddhist temple and the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan pilgrims.
The Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka embody the administrative, religious and symbolic functions of the Tibetan theocratic government through their location, layout and architecture.
Several “modernized” areas of China — including another UNESCO heritage site — have been “criticized for being overly commercialized and having lost its soul after many original residents moved out,” according to Li.
The construction sign below, translated by Business Insider, says that the site is under construction so that the area can become an “international tourist attraction.”