The Secrets and Stories of Kowloon Walled City: A Review of City of Darkness
- How did it come into existence and what was its history? - What was life like inside the walled city? - How did it end and what is its legacy? H2: The origins and evolution of Kowloon Walled City - The military outpost of the Qing dynasty and the British lease of the New Territories - The Japanese occupation and destruction during World War II - The population boom and the lack of government control in the post-war era - The triad influence and the illegal activities in the 1950s-1970s - The attempts to regulate and demolish the walled city by the Hong Kong government H2: The architecture and infrastructure of Kowloon Walled City - The organic and chaotic growth of the buildings and the high density of living space - The water, electricity, and sanitation systems and the challenges they faced - The internal layout and design of the apartments, shops, factories, and public spaces - The use of rooftops, corridors, and staircases as alternative routes and social spaces H2: The culture and community of Kowloon Walled City - The diversity and resilience of the residents and their daily lives - The social networks and mutual support among neighbors, families, and groups - The religious, educational, and recreational activities and facilities available - The artistic, literary, and cinematic representations and inspirations of the walled city H2: The demolition and transformation of Kowloon Walled City - The agreement between China and Britain to clear the walled city in 1987 - The eviction process and the compensation scheme for the residents - The demolition work and the preservation of some historical artefacts - The construction of Kowloon Walled City Park and its features H1: Conclusion - A summary of the main points and a reflection on the significance of Kowloon Walled City - A comparison with other similar urban phenomena around the world - A discussion on the lessons learned and the future prospects for urban planning Table 2: Article with HTML formatting Introduction
Imagine a place where 50,000 people lived within an area of 2.6 hectares (6.4 acres), making it the densest settlement on earth. Imagine a place where buildings were stacked on top of each other, forming a maze of dark corridors, staircases, and rooftops. Imagine a place where water pipes, electric wires, and neon signs crisscrossed the sky, creating a surreal landscape. Imagine a place where crime, drugs, prostitution, gambling, and violence coexisted with religion, education, recreation, and art. Imagine a place where people were free to build their own homes, businesses, and communities without any government interference or regulation. This place was real. It was called Kowloon Walled City.
City of Darkness - Life in Kowloon Walled City (1993).pdf
Kowloon Walled City was a unique urban phenomenon that existed in Hong Kong from the late 19th century to the early 1990s. It was originally a military fort built by the Qing dynasty to assert its sovereignty over the area. However, after Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842, the walled city became a de jure enclave that was neither fully under Chinese nor British control. As a result, it attracted waves of refugees, immigrants, squatters, outlaws, and entrepreneurs who sought a place to live or make money outside the law. Over time, the walled city grew into a densely populated slum that defied all conventional norms of urban planning and social order.
Life in Kowloon Walled City was not easy. The residents had to cope with poor living conditions, health hazards, environmental pollution, fire risks, noise nuisance, and criminal threats. Yet they also developed a remarkable sense of community, creativity, and resilience. They established their own rules, norms, networks, institutions, and culture. They adapted to the challenges and opportunities of their environment. They made the best out of their situation. They created a city within a city, a world within a world.
Kowloon Walled City came to an end in 1993, when it was demolished by the Hong Kong government as part of an agreement with China. The site was turned into a park that preserves some of the historical relics and features of the walled city. Today, Kowloon Walled City remains a fascinating and controversial topic for historians, architects, sociologists, artists, and travelers. It is a symbol of human ingenuity and endurance, as well as a reminder of the problems and possibilities of urban living. In this article, we will explore the history, architecture, culture, and legacy of Kowloon Walled City, and try to understand what made it so special and unforgettable.
The origins and evolution of Kowloon Walled City
The story of Kowloon Walled City begins in the late 19th century, when China was facing internal turmoil and external pressure from foreign powers. In 1842, after losing the First Opium War, China ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking. In 1860, after losing the Second Opium War, China ceded Kowloon Peninsula to Britain by the Convention of Peking. However, there was a small area in Kowloon that was excluded from the treaty: a walled fort that was built by the Qing dynasty in 1847 to assert its authority over the region. This fort was known as Kowloon Walled City.
The walled city was originally a military outpost that consisted of a stone wall, four gates, several watchtowers, and some barracks. It had a population of about 700 people, mostly soldiers and their families. It also had a yamen (government office), a temple, and a school. The British respected the Chinese sovereignty over the walled city and did not interfere with its affairs. However, they also did not provide any services or protection to its residents. The walled city was essentially left to its own devices.
The situation changed dramatically during World War II, when Japan invaded and occupied Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945. The Japanese army took over the walled city and used it as a base for their operations. They also demolished most of the original buildings and structures inside the wall, leaving only the yamen and the temple intact. They also expanded the wall to enclose a larger area of about 2.6 hectares (6.4 acres). When Japan surrendered in 1945, the walled city was left in ruins and abandoned by its inhabitants.
The post-war era saw a massive influx of refugees from mainland China who were fleeing from the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Many of them settled in Kowloon Walled City, where they found cheap land and shelter. They also found a place where they could avoid the British colonial authorities and the Chinese Nationalist government, both of whom claimed jurisdiction over the walled city but neither of whom exercised effective control over it. The walled city became a de facto no man's land that was governed by its own residents.
The population of Kowloon Walled City exploded from about 2,000 in 1947 to about 10,000 in 1950. The residents built makeshift houses and shacks on top of each other, creating a dense network of multi-storey buildings that reached up to 14 floors high. The buildings were constructed without any planning or regulation, resulting in irregular shapes, narrow gaps, and poor ventilation. The buildings also blocked out most of the sunlight, creating a perpetual darkness inside the walled city. The residents nicknamed it "City of Darkness".
The rapid growth of Kowloon Walled City also attracted the attention of local triads (criminal gangs) who saw an opportunity to make money from illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, and extortion. The triads established their bases and casinos inside the walled city and fought with each other for territory and influence. They also bribed or threatened some of the residents to cooperate with them or keep silent about their crimes. The triads became the de facto rulers of Kowloon Walled City in the 1950s-1970s, making it a notorious hotspot for vice and violence.
The Hong Kong government tried several times to regulate or demolish Kowloon Walled City during this period but faced strong resistance from both China and the residents. In 1959-1960, the government launched Operation Bulldozer to clear some of the illegal structures inside the wall but met with violent protests from the squatters who refused to leave. In 1963-1964, the government issued an eviction order to the residents but was challenged by a group of lawyers who filed a lawsuit on their behalf. The legal battle lasted for several years, during which the walled city continued to grow and change. In 1971-1974, the government installed water pipes, sewers, and mailboxes inside the wall, improving the living conditions and sanitation of the residents. In 1973-1974, the government conducted a census and a survey of the walled city, revealing its demographic and economic characteristics. In 1975-1976, the government launched Operation Green Grass to crack down on the triad activities and illegal businesses inside the wall, reducing the crime rate and restoring some order and security. The turning point came in 1984, when Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration that agreed to return Hong Kong to China in 1997. As part of the deal, China also agreed to give up its claim over Kowloon Walled City and allow Britain to clear it. In January 1987, the Hong Kong government announced its plan to demolish the walled city and build a park in its place. The plan was met with mixed reactions from the residents. Some welcomed the opportunity to move out and receive compensation, while others resisted and demanded more rights and benefits. The government offered each resident a cash payment of HK$35,000 (US$4,500) or a public housing unit as compensation. The government also provided social services and assistance to help the residents relocate and resettle. The eviction process was not easy. It took six years to complete, from 1987 to 1993. The government faced various challenges and difficulties, such as verifying the identities and eligibility of the residents, negotiating with different interest groups and stakeholders, dealing with legal disputes and appeals, resolving conflicts and disputes among the residents, and coordinating with various departments and agencies. The government also faced public criticism and opposition from some sectors of society who saw the demolition as a violation of human rights, a loss of cultural heritage, or a waste of resources. The demolition work began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994. It involved more than 400 workers who used bulldozers, cranes, jackhammers, and explosives to tear down the buildings and structures inside the wall. The demolition work was carefully planned and executed to ensure safety and efficiency. The demolition work also revealed some hidden secrets and surprises inside the wall, such as underground tunnels, hidden rooms, illegal weapons, drugs, money, and even corpses. The demolition work also marked the end of an era for Kowloon Walled City. It was a historic moment that attracted local and international attention. Many people came to witness or document the demolition work, including journalists, photographers, filmmakers, researchers, artists, activists, tourists, and former residents. Some of them expressed sadness or nostalgia for the loss of a unique place that had been their home or inspiration for years. Others expressed relief or hope for a better future for themselves or for Hong Kong. The architecture and infrastructure of Kowloon Walled City
One of the most remarkable aspects of Kowloon Walled City was its architecture and infrastructure. It was a product of human ingenuity and adaptation that defied all conventional standards and principles of urban design and engineering. It was a self-organized system that emerged from the bottom-up without any top-down guidance or control. It was a living organism that evolved over time in response to changing needs and circumstances.
The architecture of Kowloon Walled City was characterized by its organic and chaotic growth of buildings that were stacked on top of each other without any regard for alignment or symmetry. The buildings were constructed by the residents themselves using whatever materials they could find or afford, such as wood, metal, concrete, bricks, tiles, plastic sheets, bamboo poles, etc. The buildings were also modified or extended by the residents according to their preferences or needs, such as adding extra floors or rooms, creating balconies or windows, or connecting with other buildings. The buildings were also built close to each other, leaving only narrow gaps or alleyways between them. The average width of these alleyways was about one meter (3 feet), but some were as narrow as 50 centimeters (20 inches). The alleyways were the main pathways for the residents to access their homes and shops, but they were also dark, damp, dirty, and dangerous. The infrastructure of Kowloon Walled City was characterized by its improvised and precarious nature. The residents had to devise their own solutions to provide water, electricity, and sanitation to their homes and businesses. They dug wells and installed pumps to draw water from underground sources. They also tapped into the public water pipes that were installed by the government in the 1970s. They connected their own pipes and hoses to these sources and ran them along the walls or roofs of the buildings. They also collected rainwater from the rooftops and stored it in tanks or barrels. The residents also tapped into the public electricity grid that was installed by the government in the 1970s. They connected their own wires and cables to the grid and ran them along the walls or roofs of the buildings. They also used generators, batteries, or solar panels to supplement their power supply. They used electric lights, fans, heaters, refrigerators, televisions, radios, and other appliances to make their lives more comfortable and convenient. The residents also had to deal with the problem of waste disposal and sanitation. They had no proper sewage system or garbage collection service. They used buckets, basins, or sinks to collect their wastewater and dumped it into the drains or sewers that ran along the alleyways. They also used toilets that were either shared by several households or located in public areas. They used plastic bags or bins to collect their solid waste and threw it into the dumpsters that were located outside the wall or on the rooftops. They also burned some of their waste on the rooftops or in open spaces. The internal layout and design of the apartments, shops, factories, and public spaces inside Kowloon Walled City reflected the diversity and adaptability of the residents. The apartments were usually small, cramped, and dimly lit. The average size of an apartment was about 23 square meters (250 square feet), but some were as small as 4 square meters (43 square feet). The apartments usually consisted of one or two rooms that served multiple functions: living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc. The apartments were also decorated according to the tastes and cultures of the residents: some were simple and minimalist, while others were colorful and ornate. The shops were usually located on the ground floor or lower levels of the buildings. They offered a variety of goods and services to the residents and visitors: groceries, clothes, electronics, hardware, medicine, hairdressing, tailoring, etc. Some shops were specialized and catered to specific needs or interests: herbalists, fortune tellers, tattoo artists, etc. The shops were also designed according to the preferences and skills of the owners: some were neat and tidy, while others were cluttered and messy. The shops were also open to the public and often displayed their goods or services on the street or in the windows. The factories were usually located on the upper floors or rooftops of the buildings. They produced a variety of goods, such as clothes, shoes, toys, food, metalware, etc. Some factories were legal and registered with the government, while others were illegal and operated without licenses or taxes. The factories were also noisy, dirty, and hazardous, posing risks of fire, explosion, or pollution. The public spaces were scattered throughout the walled city and served different functions and purposes. They included temples, churches, schools, clinics, libraries, youth centers, elderly homes, etc. They provided religious, educational, medical, social, and recreational services and facilities to the residents and visitors. They also fostered a sense of community and belonging among the people who shared common beliefs, values, interests, or needs. The use of rooftops, corridors, and staircases as alternative routes and social spaces was another distinctive feature of Kowloon Walled City. The rooftops were used as extensions of the living space or as escape routes in case of emergency. They were also used as places for drying clothes, growing plants, raising animals, storing goods, burning waste, or enjoying fresh air and sunlight. The corridors and staircases were used as shortcuts or detours to avoid the crowded or dangerous alleyways. They were also used as places for hanging out, chatting, playing games, or doing business. The culture and community of Kowloon Walled City
Another remarkable aspect of Kowloon Walled City was its culture and community. It was a product of human diversity and resilience that defied all conventional stereotypes and expectations of urban life. It was a self-governed society that emerged from the bottom-up without any top-down authority or intervention. It was a living culture that evolved over time in response to changing contexts and influences.
The culture of Kowloon Walled City was characterized by its diversity and resilience. The residents came from different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, religions, and lifestyles. They included mainland Chinese refugees who fled from war or poverty; Hong Kong locals who sought cheap rent or business opportunities; South Asian immigrants who worked as laborers or traders; Japanese retirees who enjoyed the exotic atmosphere; Western expatriates who were fascinated by the adventure; etc. The residents also faced various challenges and difficulties such as poverty, discrimination, violence, etc. Yet they also showed remarkable strength and spirit in overcoming these challenges and difficulties. They developed their own rules, norms, values, and identities that helped them cope and survive. They also created their own culture that reflected their diversity and resilience: a culture that was rich, vibrant, dynamic, and unique. The community of Kowloon Walled City was characterized by its social networks and mutual support. The residents formed various kinds of relationships and connections with each other based on kinship, friendship, neighborhood, occupation, religion, interest, etc. They helped each other out in times of need or trouble, such as sharing resources, providing services, offering advice, lending money, etc. They also cooperated and collaborated with each other in various activities and projects, such as building houses, running businesses, organizing events, etc. They also celebrated and enjoyed life together in various ways, such as having festivals, parties, weddings, funerals, etc. The residents also had a sense of belonging and identity as members of Kowloon Walled City. They were proud of their home and their history. They were aware of their uniqueness and their difference from the rest of Hong Kong society. They were also loyal and protective of