Tibetans Fear ‘Chinese-Style’ Homes in Qinghai Earthquake Reconstruction

Newly built structures won't reflect traditional Tibetan architectural styles, some earthquake survivors say.
2021.09.23
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Tibetans Fear ‘Chinese-Style’ Homes in Qinghai Earthquake Reconstruction Tibetan homes destroyed in a May 22, 2021 earthquake in Qinghai are shown under reconstruction in an undated photo.
Photo from Tibet

Survivors of an earthquake earlier this year in a Tibetan-populated county in northwestern China’s Qinghai say they fear that homes and monasteries demolished in the quake will be rebuilt by authorities in a Chinese style, destroying their traditional Tibetan appearance, sources say.

The 7.3 magnitude quake struck Qinghai’s Matoe (in Chinese, Maduo) county on May 22, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 300, local sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Chinese authorities moved quickly to block information flows from the region, preventing independent confirmation of casualty figures.

Local authorities began in July to rebuild affected areas, demolishing houses and monasteries, a Tibetan living in the region told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.

“But they are taking down not just the structures that were affected in the earthquake but also those that were not affected,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“And without consulting the wishes of the laypeople or the monks, they are demolishing their homes and living quarters and replacing them with steel-framed houses.”

“It is of huge concern now that the government may soon reconstruct the whole area with houses that present only Chinese characteristics,” he said.

Even though severe damage was left behind by the earthquake in May, "there is no reason to simply tear everything down,” the source said, adding that Chinese authorities are promising the new structures will be strong enough to withstand earthquakes in the future, and that other houses will eventually be built.

“However, all this new construction complies only with the government’s agenda, and Tibetans are concerned that there will be no Tibetan characteristics left in these newly built houses,” the source said.

Tibetan residents of Matoe were barred by authorities from posting reports concerning damage from the May 22 quake, which followed a 6.4 magnitude quake earlier that same day in southwestern China’s Yunnan province that left at least three dead and 32 injured, according to state media reports.

On April 14, 2010, an earthquake in Qinghai’s Yushul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture largely destroyed the town of Kyegudo, displacing thousands of residents and killing almost 3,000 by official count.

Chinese security forces later moved to evict Tibetan families from the new homes built for them after occupants said they could not pay the government back for the costs of additional construction.

The Jan. 2015 action by authorities in Kyegudo followed official demands for payment and saw hundreds of police deployed into government-built housing projects, sources said.

Tibetans living in Tibet and Tibetan areas of China frequently complain of political, economic, and religious discrimination as well as human rights abuses and say they fear Beijing is pursuing ever more intensive assimilation policies toward the six million Tibetans.

Reported by Sangyal Kunchok for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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