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Forgotten Places: Kowloon Walled City

Last Updated on 2022/01/19

Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City was a densely populated and ungoverned area in Hong Kong.

Originally a fortress, in 1898 the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were given to Britain by China.

Related articles: China Suburbia, an examination of suburban life in Yunnan, China; History of Hong Kong cinema

Hong Kong Walled city once was the most densely populated place on Earth

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A view of the Kowloon Walled City and the popular Kowloon Street from Pak Hok San in Kowloon City in the 1910s. 
Kowloon Street acted as the biggest market in Kowloon Peninsula for centuries, and the two towers are pawn shops inside the market.

The population grew rapidly in Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion in the Second World War. After the Chinese Civil War, the first wave of refugees arrived. Two years later, another 2,000 came. In January 1950, a fire destroyed 2,500 huts that housed around 3,500 families. The accident highlighted the dangers and inadequacy of the area.

Hong Kong Kowloon Walled City
Photo: Michael Wolf

The fire gave the opportunity to build new constructions. Placed outside of government control, the city became an ideal breeding ground for crime and the drug market. Only in 1959, following a murder, it was decided that the Hong Kong government had jurisdiction over the settlement.

A street at the edge of the city at night in 1993, one year before its demolition. 
Ian Lambot. City of Darkness – Life in Kowloon Walled City

During the fifties, the city was under the control of the triads such as 14k and Sun Yee On which controlled numerous brothels, gaming parlors, and opium dens.

Author: Ryuji Miyamoto 

Only between 1973 and 1974, following a series of police raids, the power of the triads begin to falter.

Hong Kong Kowloon Walled City
Author: Ryuji Miyamoto 

From the 1950s until the 1970s, the area remained under the control of the triads, which controlled the rampant racket of prostitution and gambling.

Author: Ryuji Miyamoto 

Related articles: History of the Triads in Hong Kong, History of prostitution in China through images, Interview with Les Bird, author of ‘A Small Band of Men’

Hong Kong Kowloon Walled City
Author: Roger Price, 1991

In 1990 the city had 50,000 inhabitants in an area of ​​2.6 hectares (6.4 acres).

In January 1987, the Hong Kong government decided to demolish it.

Photograph of Kowloon Walled City by Paul Rudolph, between 1960 and 1980

A long and complicated process for the eviction of the inhabitants started. Demolition work began in March 1993 and ended in April 1994.

In December 1995, Kowloon Walled City Park was opened and built where the neighborhood once stood.

Hong Kong Kowloon Walled City
A playground at the edge of the city, Ian Lambot, 1993

A fictional Kowloon Walled City is visited by Ryo Hazuki, the main character of the Japanese game Shenmue II.

Related articles: Best video games set in China and Hong Kong

Kowloon walled city Shenmue II
Kowloon Walled City in Shenmue II (source)

Featured image: Kowloon Walled City with Squatter Village in front in 1970s. The south side of the Kowloon Walled City in 1975. The elevation of the buildings begins to reach its maximum height. Ian Lambot
Source: wikipedia

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