The Lawless City in Hong Kong – Kowloon Walled City

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The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy and brings the place alive 20 years later.

Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to the UK by China in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the walled city contained 50,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) borders. From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was controlled by local triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug abuse.

In response to difficult living conditions, residents formed a tightly knit community, helping one another endure various hardships. Within families, wives often did housekeeping, while grandmothers cared for their grandchildren and other children from surrounding households. The City’s rooftops were an important gathering place, especially for residents who lived on upper floors. Parents used them to relax, and children would play or do homework there after school.

The yamen in the heart of the City was also a major social center, a place for residents to talk, have tea or watch television, and to take classes such as calligraphy. The Old People’s Centre also held religious meetings for Christians and others. Other religious institutions included the Fuk Tak and Tin Hau temples, which were used for a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and animist practices.

In January 1987, the Hong Kong municipal government announced plans to demolish the walled city. After an arduous eviction process, demolition began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994. Kowloon Walled City Park opened in December 1995 and occupies the area of the former Walled City. Some historical artifacts from the walled city, including its yamen building and remnants of its southern gate, have been preserved there.

Learn more here.

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