Kowloon Walled City
The Kowloon Walled City (九龍城寨, originally known as 九龍寨城) was an interesting anomaly in Hong Kong's colonial history. It was China's tiny enclave in the middle of British Hong Kong for over two centuries and it had a colorful existence until it was finally torn down in 1993.
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The Walled City (known as Kowloon then) was originally a single fort built in the mid-1800s on the site of an earlier 17th century watchpost on the Kowloon Peninsula of Hong Kong. After the ceding of Hong Kong Island to Britain in 1842 (Treaty of Nanjing), Qing (Chinese) authorities felt it necessary for them to establish a military-cum-administrative post to rule the area and to check further British influence in the area.
The 1898 Convention which handed additional parts of Hong Kong (the New Territories) to Britain for 99 years excluded the Walled City, with a population of roughly 700, and stated that China could continue to keep troops there, so long as they did not interfere with Britain's temporary rule. Britain quickly went back on this unofficial part of the agreement, attacking Kowloon Walled City in 1899, only to find it deserted. They did nothing with it nor to the outpost, and thus sent the question of Kowloon Walled City's ownership squarely into the air. The outpost consisted of a yamen, as well as other buildings (which eventually grew into a low-lying, densely packed neighborhood within the walls), in the era between the 1890s and the 1940s. The enclave remained part of Chinese territory despite the tubulent events of the early 20th century that saw the fall of the Qing government, establishment of a Chinese republic and later, the People's Republic of China.
The Walled City remained a curiosity – and a tourist attraction where British colonials and tourists could have a "taste of the old China" – until 1940, when during its WWII occupation of Hong Kong, Japan evicted people from the city, and then demolished much of the city – including the wall – to provide building materials for the nearby Kai Tak Aerodrome.
After Japan's surrender, squatters (whether former residents or – more likely – newcomers) began to occupy the Walled City, resisting several attempts by Britain in 1948 to drive them out. With no wall to protect it (initially), the Walled City became a haven for crooks and drug addicts, as the Hong Kong Police had no right to enter the City (and mainland China refused to take care of it). The 1949 foundation of the People's Republic of China added thousands of refugees to the population, many from Guangzhou, and by this time, Britain had had enough, and simply adopted a 'hands-off' policy. A murder that occurred in Kowloon Walled City in 1959 set off a small diplomatic crisis, as the two nations each tried to get the other to claim responsibility for a vast tract of land now virtually ruled by anti-Manchurian Triads (the Hong Kong organized crime syndicate).
The Triads' rule lasted up until the mid-1970s, when a 1973-1974 series of over 3,000 police raids occurred in Kowloon Walled City. With the Triads' power diminished, a strange sort of synergy blossomed, and the Walled City began to grow almost organically. Square buildings folded up into one another as thousands of modifications were made, virtually none by architects, until hundreds of square metres were simply a kind of patchwork monolith. Labyrinthine corridors ran through the monolith, some of those being former streets (at the ground level, and often clogged up with trash), and some of those running through upper floors, practically between buildings. The only rules of construction were twofold: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than about fourteen storeys high (because of the nearby airport). A mere eight municipal pipes somehow provided water to the entire structure (although more could have come from wells). By the early 1980s, Kowloon Walled City had an estimated population of 35,000 – with a crime rate far below the Hong Kong average, despite the notable lack of any real law enforcement.
Over time, both the British and the Chinese governments found this massive, anarchic city to be a bit too much – despite the low crime. If the 'Black Market' ever had a physical location, this would have been it. Needless to say, the sanitary conditions were, well, a bit wanting.
At that time, it had 50,000 inhabitants on 0.026 km², and therefore a very high population density of 1,900,000 / km². It was allegedly the most densely populated spot on Earth.
The 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan was partly made in the deserted Walled City, and includes real scenes of building explosions. Kowloon Walled City was destroyed in the same year. Also, as the Walled City was beginning to be torn down, a group of Japanese explorers took about a week to tour the empty walled city, making a sort of map and a cross section of the city.
Kowloon Walled City Park
The area is now located in today's Kowloon City district. It was built into Kowloon Walled City Park (九龍寨城公園), an elegant park preserving the heritage of the fabled Walled City, which is part of the Carpenter Road Park.
The Design of the park is based on the Jiangnan garden style of the early Qing Dynasty. It is divided into eight landscape features, with the centerpiece being the Yamen, a three-hall structure fully restored in its Qing Dynasty appearance. The Yamen houses a photo exhibition and a few relics used or found in the Walled City. The eight parts of the park are:
- The Yamen
- The Old South Gate
- Eight Floral Walks
- The Garden of Four Seasons
- The Garden of Chinese Zodiac
- The Chess Garden – featuring four giant Chinese chess boards
- The Mountain View Pavilion
- Guibi and Fui Sing Pavilion
The yamen and the remnants of the South Gate of Kowloon Walled City are declared monuments of Hong Kong.
- Kowloon City district
- History of Hong Kong
- List of urban public parks and gardens of Hong Kong
- List of buildings, sites and areas in Hong Kong