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May 17, 2022

Impressive Color Photos of Kowloon Walled City, Once the Most Densely-Populated Place on Earth

“Hak Nam, City of Darkness, the old Walled City of Kowloon has come down.” Peter Popham wrote in the introduction for the original edition of City of Darkness Revisited. “Many people in Hong Kong, both Chinese and foreign, for whom it was never more than a disgusting rumour, believed it went years ago. Not so. Almost to the end it retained its seedy magnificence. It had never looked more impudent, more desperate, more evil to some eyes, more weirdly beautiful to others.

“[...] The City in its final, massive high-rise form went back barely 20 years. In origin, however, the magistrate’s fort and the neighbouring Kowloon City were much the oldest parts of Hong Kong, and one of the few areas in Kowloon populated when the British first arrived in 1841 to claim Hong Kong Island and the southern-most tip of the Kowloon Peninsula for their own. It was a proper Chinese town, laid out with painstaking attention to eternal principles. [...]

“[...] The City may have effectively ceased to exist, but the area’s status as a diplomatic black hole was not forgotten, and in the chaos of the War’s aftermath it proved the perfect place of asylum for many of the hundred thousands of refugees pouring south to escape famine, civil war and political persecution as the Communists gained control in China. Surrounded now only by walls of political inhibition, the City became the place where they could get their breath back; where they could live as Chinese among other Chinese, untaxed, uncounted and untormented by governments of any kind.

“And so, the Walled City became that rarest of things, a working model of an anarchist society. Inevitably, it bred all the vices that the enemies of anarchism denounce. Crime flourished and the Triads made the place their stronghold, operating brothels and opium ‘divans’ and gambling dens. Undoubtedly, these Triad few (and it always was a small proportion) kept the majority of residents in a state of fear and subjection, which is why for many years outsiders trying to penetrate were given the coldest of shoulders.”


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