“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there. An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and whores and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.”
—William Gibson, Idoru
It was the most densely populated place on Earth for most of the 20th century, where a room cost the equivalent of US$6 per month in high rise buildings that belonged to no country. In this urban enclave, “a historical accident”, law had no place. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes lived and worked alongside kindergartens, and residents walked the narrow alleys with umbrellas to shield themselves from the endless, constant dripping of makeshift water pipes above….
Kowloon ‘Walled’ City lost its wall during the Second World War when Japan invaded and razed the walls for materials to expand the nearby airport. When Japan surrendered, claims of sovereignty over Kowloon finally came to a head between the Chinese and the British. Perhaps to avoid triggering yet another conflict in the wake of a world war, both countries wiped their hands of the burgeoning territory.
And then came the refugees, the squatters, the outlaws. The uncontrolled building of 300 interconnected towers crammed into a seven-acre plot of land had begun and by 1990, Kowloon was home to more than 50,000 inhabitants….
Despite earning its Cantonese nickname, “City of Darkness”, amazingly, many of Kowloon’s residents liked living there. And even with its lack of basic amenities such as sanitation, safety and even sunlight, it’s reported that many have fond memories of the friendly tight-knit community that was “poor but happy”.
“People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain,” a former resident told the South China Morning Post….
Today all that remains of Kowloon is a bronze small-scale model of the labyrinth in the middle a public park where it once stood.
This isn’t to say places like Kowloon Walled City no longer exist in Hong Kong….